Esther Kamkar Poetry

New Poems

Click poem headings below to open and again to close each poem

Career Tip

From a 2009 Letter Addressed to Jamie Dimon , CEO of JP Morgan Chase

You tell your shareholders:
This was perhaps our best year ever
And give them career tips:
Keep a two-column to-do list
and update it throughout the day —
things you owe people
and things people owe you.

Consider these for your own list
in your pocket, Jamie Dimon —
things left behind, when people
are forced to leave their homes:
Empty prescription bottles
Hospital bed
Insulin needles
Tonka dump truck
Report card with As and Bs under a magnet
A pile of clothes hiding a small child's artificial leg
Crayons scattered in the bedroom with the peeling princess mural
Wedding album discarded in the garage
Stack of unopened bills
Thomas the Train
"Get Rich in Real Estate" book

List after list
full of things and non-things.
Lists empty of things.

Chickadee Brain

My chickadee brain expands
in fall, hippocampus grows
to remember what I hoard
and where I store food
for winter's long nights.

My Enkaustikos
I keep in a paint box.
Egyptian violet, Hansa yellow
beeswax, to illuminate windowless
rooms of the heart in winter,
to burn in and fuse
the heat of the sun.

Summer tomatoes
I stack in the freezer's hungry belly.
They do not move, my ruby stones.
They wait for soup.

Precious apricot and plum jewels
in glass jars, I hide in the hollow
limb of a carob tree.

Indigo appetites
I pick their leaves in fallow fields
and feed them honey and dates
for nine months of fermentation
to be born in winter air.

Kabul Lullaby

Armed Afghan soldiers
guarding a minister's house
greet the passing American
musician, Dobbs, and ask
him to sing a lullaby.

In the city where public
singing is forbidden, he sings
a lullaby in the street. He
sings a quiet, gentle song.
He sings it softly.

Only Weapons and Iron and Fire

Do not send me a chain letter with a Psalm
for David and a prayer for soldiers.

Does your prayer have eyes
to find only your soldiers,
the ones with darker uniforms
and a lighter flag, not the soldiers
who wear lighter uniforms
and hold a darker flag?

Do not curse me with a plague
for breaking this chain.

Doesn't your prayer have eyes?
There are no horses, or chariots.
The soldiers are all dark,
they look alike
and they are bowed down
and fallen.

In Praise of a Marginal Worker

You are not thought as god's
flesh, bringer of ecstasy and delirium.
Your color no metaphor of green.

A rib, a stick, a stalk
you carry and serve
what is considered more luscious
than the crunch-crunch ferry
boats of your fibrous undulations.

Homer says even a deathless god
who saw you in the field
might wonder at the sight
and be glad at heart.

No one knows your real worth:
No one knows you cool the heat of mint.
No one knows your seed in a shoe
would make a magician fly.

Flame Eater and Acrobat

Flame eater and acrobat
moor their maroon canoe
at the harbor and unload their cargo.
They set up their tent
and start their work among us again.

The flame eater juggles torches
by the roadside.
I say:
Come with me and make this door
beautiful for me to enter.

The female acrobat, standing on her hands
on the sand, looks up at me.
I ask about her friend, the woman
who walked on broken glass without bleeding.
She says:
She turned into a glass shard and went to sea.
She'll return to the shore one day
a red nugget of sea glass, if you look for her.

I speak to flames:
Give me a handful of hinges and doorknobs.
Eat this door.
Give me a threshold, an entrance.

I speak to oyster catchers hopping on their long red
Teach me happiness,
how to want only the oyster, not the pearl.

And to toss and tumble of the sea:
Make the jagged edges smooth.
Make me stone.
Make me glass.

Cicada Love

Download mp3        Listen to mp3

Sing for us

After releasing the lion-head knocker,
I plead:
Door, open for me. Let me in,
to the other side, where language is easy
and flowing, so I can tell exactly what I smell,
the colors I see, and the way sunrise in the milky
sky takes me to a crib, to a baby just woken up.
I beg:
Blue door of the poem, open for me.
Invite me to enter, to bring all my cicadas
with me. I don't know what else to do with them,
where else to put them.

So easy to make friends with the women
of the world. We tell a story, we listen,
and we understand — a story of longing
and loss, stories of our children
and our parents, a story of exile.
Easy movements over the globe
on steady old feet.

Having no care
having no history
in the land of History,
earthquakes, and volcanic
explosions, I collect
one by one, hot black stones
on the black beach, only to keep
them by my side for the day,
and by dusk to give them back
to the sea, stone after stone.

From the old port
according to their own timetable
fast ferries of grief
arrive and dock.
They turn off their engines
and unload their cargo.

This is how love should be:
un-exotic, not a rarity, or oddity,
common as wild fig trees by the roadside,
as common as geraniums
in olive oil cans, as common as salt
from the sea.

They tell us about the gods, the goddesses,
the temples and the marble columns,
but for me cicadas are the gods of Acropolis.
Their incessant mechanical song,
all day, all around the hill.
in the circle of cicadas
I listen.
In the intense heat,
I listen to them
singing their song
about their days in the trees.

Where To Begin

A wild fig tree,
bearing thousands of figs
stands in an empty field
by our house on the Burnt Island.
Wide open dusty leaves.
My daughter says
to her sister on the phone:
Mama is in heaven.
At sunrise, I pick a bowl of figs,
easy pleasure, ripe
flesh at my fingertips.

I walk down the road past the fig tree,
the caged singing karderinas
in Ampelaki's Taverna,
the yellow schoolhouse
past Argyros Winery, the horse,
the creeping grape vines,
the blue-domed church,
past the donkey under another fig tree,
down towards the gold light
of the sea. I absorb everything,
like a net-bag of sponges from Kalymnos,
I imagine, hanging from doorframes.

A wave of grief
rises up, colorful
and transparent,
as clear plastic bowls
of jams hanging from hoops
in the bakery, where I practice
my new language, buy four
loaves of bread and a quarter kilo
of quince jam. My grief
is a one-day visitor,
it sails through its own flood,
and leaves me with these words:
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart to itself…
Feast on your life.

Alphabets of Greek, Farsi, and Hebrew
burn against each other in my head
and the words I thought I knew
in English stick to my tongue,
make my mouth move for a delta, a lambda,
a vagabond-bundle of gamma.

In her shop, Zoë gives me
a miniature replica of the Parthenon:
A gift for a woman, not from California,
but from Persee-ah. You are like us, she says.
She wants to know about my ancestry,
poetry, languages and gardens.
We talk about the meaning of life
for Zoë, about Odysseus and Penelope,
how she longed and waited for him
twenty years. We talk about the Mermaid,
Alexander's sister still grieving
her brother's death.
We are at the foot of Acropolis,
in Athens, not Persepolis, in Shiraz.
What do I know of love
and pride for a country,
any country?

Note - The three lines in italics are from Derek Walcott's "Love After Love
What I Mean When I Say Memory

This is the summer of Greek and mulberries.
The island knows the things I love
and offers me the day's golden lantanas
and the night's hot alcoves.

A song:
Kiss me
Kiss me
with the breath
of a sponge diver.

Little dirt-color lizards
Enamel squares on a silver ring
All sixty-four sections in a sidewalk tile
Bread and goat cheese at Homer's Tomb
Thickness of glass bottles

A song:
What if I had six
hands to hold you.

Cactus and prickly pear
Hand-knockers on blue doors
Blade of a bay leaf
The oldness of things
I am here with you and I notice you.
A fifteen-day detail on the landscape,
I buy bread and swim in the sea.

A song:
I come to you
with empty hands
and you fill
them with sand
and sea water.
A monument
slips through my fingers.

Perhaps the smallness of things,
the short distances, the relentless
heat and the lighthouse in Akritori
want to invite me towards the shores
of memory, east of this.

Red Raft Woman

In another country
at the edge of the river
I talk to the red-raft woman:
Ask me and I'll tell you
about my sister.

How we grew old without
each other's stories,
how our children never
slept like seals side by side,
on Grandma's living-room floor,
her children never asked me
for midnight pancakes.

Red-raft woman
make me a map
and I'll show you
where I was years ago —
Buffalo, Niagara Falls.
No one ever told me
about the sound —
how it vibrates and embraces you.

The joy of holding my sister
after twenty-eight years,
the silence after the Falls.
What roared in me was
the grief-sound of absence.

Ah, and her granddaughters,
the mountain slope and wild poppies
behind her house, and her garden
blooming with tea rose from Kashan.