Esther Kamkar

Poems on Politics

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

What I Love

What I love you steal from me.
You take his lunchbox and bring me a bronze amulet.
You take his torso and bring me a folded flag.
You take his hands and give me the words hero and honor.
You take his legs and give me the word freedom.
What I love you bury.

Oh, open your hands, your bloody hands.
I want to return your trophies.
In the shoeboxes of my mind,
I keep the folded butterfly sheet for making a tent,
full lunchboxes
washcloths for scrubbing behind the ears,
and silkworms on mulberry leaves.

Open; open your bloody hands.

They Kill the Butterflies

Parvaneh means butterfly in Farsi

My second sister, Parvaneh,
Disappeared for a month;
The Revolutionary Guards took her.
She returned,
Marked and sealed
A silent woman.
In my dreams I hear
Her voice, screaming
in a torture chamber.
I see the electrodes on her naked body.
I see the jolt of pain and terror.

In the dark and sinister prison grounds
Where they take the women at night,
I put my body down next to her body
I hold her injured body gently.
In tenderness, I say: Fly away my butterfly, fly away.

Thirty years before when my sister
Was flying home, her airplane
Crashlanded on the Mediterranean Sea.
How I waited for her.
How I cried.

I waited for you in the house,
At the door, in the garden,
On the curbside
How I wanted you
My fish-sister
My miracle-sister
Turn, turn into a fish
Before my eyes.
I will paint you a sea,
I will paint you an island,
I will paint you a ship,
I will paint you a home,
I will paint your daughters,
Coral and Eyelashes.
I will paint you in the middle.

Words To Die For

I read that the Russian poet
Osip Mandelstam was ordered killed
because he'd likened Stalin's mustache
to a cockroach.

And I heard that Moosa, my father's cousin,
was executed because he'd sworn
loud enough for the guards to hear
that His Holiness, the Imam
was fathered by a dog
and mothered by a whore.

And I met a woman
who was half crazy.
She'd visited her two daughters in prison
once a month for ten years
and brought them care-packages
of birth control pills.
She said: Their faces were yellow like turmeric.
It was all in their eyes.

In my mother- tongue we say
that a desired woman's body
is like peeled peaches,
that she walks like a drunk peacock
and sees with her deer eyes.
we say that a child's body is as pure
as her mother's milk.

Where I come from
these days they don't execute
the virgins.
First they rape them
and then
they shoot them.

Just Because...

Just because I was born in Iran,
I am not a belly dancer
I am not a fortune teller
I am not a camel rider

I am a poet.

Just because I am a woman,
I don't like diamonds
I don't love to shop
I don't worship credit cards

I love to play with clay.

Just because I am a Jew,
I don't make a fortune
I don't hate Arabs
I don't believe in "an eye for an eye"

I remember and give refuge.

Just because I am a mother,
I am not regretful
I am not a martyr
I am not a fixer

I listen and I love.

Apache 1999

for Ema

The war against Ethnic Cleansing
Kosovo Tetovo
Belgrade Blace
Montenegro Macedonia
Novi Sad Pristina Skopje Kukes
Kosovars Serbs
Mudpits Hunger Thirst

The war against Ethnic Cleansing
Starts with the Apache helicopters

Wounded Knee
The Long Walk
The Trail Of Tears


Hunger Thirst Mudpits
Dull Knife's Honing
Wounded Wounded Wounded

Chief Joseph
Brave Buffalo
Lone Wolf
Big Foot
Kicking Bird
Black Hawk
Black Elk
Black Bear
Sitting Bear
Sitting Bull
Red Cloud
Eagle Wing
Inside the Fence
In The School Yard

I keep all the pencils
I find in the schoolyard.

My mother taught me
Never step on bread.
Bread, a crumb, a morsel.

I keep a pencil for Ashraf who can't write.
Her palms are bloody and swollen.

I keep a pencil for Behrouz whose fingernails
Were ripped out. He can't write.

I keep a pencil for Farrokhi-ye Yazdi
Who'd never read
His poems
His mouth
Was sewn shut.

I never step on bread
I lift the bread and kiss it
Then I place it in a safe corner
Away from trampling feet.

Love Extiguishes The Pain

A Painting by Barbara Leventhal-Stern

The birds are dead;
they float on their backs.

The elephant sprays cool
water on the woman
in flames.

She is burning
burning in the fire.

Her mouth is burning;
they pulled
her gold crowns.

Her pelvis is burning.
All she wanted
was a bed
with white sheets;
they mated her
with monkeys.

She is burning
in the fire
of the ovens.
The birds are dead,
and the human-eyed
elephant sprays her flaming body.

Because I am a dreamer,
the human-eyed elephant
visits me in my dreams,
brings me
the burning woman's
black shoes.
Only her shoes.
Thorn Bushes

Thorn bushes
Spring up
An army
Thorn bushes spring up
In the hearts of
The passing

In this war
Of love
As the pregnancy
Of an elephant
Gives her
Because she
Lets it.

Hands in Tehran

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My dark stained small hands
that peeled fresh walnuts
and saved the white flesh
for marble pyramids
have since whitened
in their longing
for a cherry tree
to climb.

I look back at the roads
cluttered with broken pyramids
dried nails of dahlia petals
and crushed earrings of cherries.

Afraid of becoming robed
in black like a crow
with the fingers and face of a woman,

How can I go home?

Note - The two lines in italics are from F. Farrokhzad.
Forget Egypt #1

Forget the Pharaoh
Forget the Pyramids
Forget Bondage in Egypt

Think of your life now
Let go of your internal Egypts
Saying: The Red Sea is red

Saying: you are only imagining it blue
Saying: You are the shank bone on the platter
Saying: Yes. You were the sacrificial lamb

Make a new dinner plate
Remember sweet, not bitter
Licorice, basil, mint

Ask these questions:
Where is my joy?
How can I be safe?

Why do I eat and eat the bread of affliction?

Forget Egypt #2

Forget the Pharaoh
Forget the Pyramids
Forget Bondage in Egypt

Watch the evening news
Who is a Jew? Who is an Arab?
You can't tell them apart

Forget the Red Sea
Think of the Jordan River
Swelling with tears, now

A constant rain of
Flesh, blood and bone
A Jew's jawbone or an Arab's torso?

Wrist joint, ankle joint, head, neck and waist
A marionette come-unhinged, undone
Winders tangled, twisted in tight knots

Where is the honey?
And the milk?
How many fresh graves by sundown?

Because of Hands and Bread

Left hands out of the bus window
wrists, palms, fingers
cannot reach the loaves of bread
offered by a right hand.

Where are your
bodies, your faces, and your mouths?
Your hand hand hand
reflected on the side of the bus
like a forest in the river.

Go home now.
Soon the bus will leave
and this will be the beginning of your exile.

You will lose the keys to your houses.
You will forget the names of trees and flowers.

Your hands cut off at the wrists
will float in the Great Blue River
with tree trunks, split buses.
Downstream — under the Memorial Bridge
your hands will wave to other hands.

Hands hands hands
like your own
swollen and toy-like.

This is the beginning of your exile.