How Do You Say That In Farsi? – Leila Emery


"Have you been saved?" she asked as you sat slack jawed and silent

in the passenger seat, skin like fire against your still-wet beach towel

the one with the 4th of July print.


"As in Jesus," drawn out                                                          

as though you couldn't understand


How to respond to pretty

blonde mothers with Southern drawls and bless-your-hearts?

Curse you, politeness, and your ugly 
sister deference.


What you do know

is that the first time

you heard a fairy tale

you asked about the wolf

not the girl in red.

Your father—Farsi as lyrical as a real


responded in key words                                                          

perfect for learning




From another room

your maman bozorg, wizened and newly American, praised

your father

for his words.


When the towers fell, your friends thanked God

on your behalf because they knew you wouldn't.

            Thank God you don't look Middle Eastern!

            Thank God your name doesn't give you away!

That night, someone placed an American flag

sticker on your mother's car—

a reminder

of their God.


Later, your lover, the one who preferred you use

your study-abroad Spanish at dinner parties

            Wouldn't it be fun? You could be from anywhere!

would kiss you feverishly, whisper sin

for hours and then rush to the shower.

God is watching.

Another story.


In a sad attempt to learn your mother

tongue, you subjected yourself

to hours of Farsi lessons, hoping the words

would fit together—finally—their pieces a pomegranate

jigsaw puzzle.

The basics, first.

            How do you say no?


            Not nah! Nah kheir, the white professor rebuked.

Nah was reserved for cheap girls

the ones from bad families.

Just a word—it shouldn't be so difficult—and yet

there was that time

with the boy who also could have been

from anywhere—

What was it he called you?

Persian princess?

Back at his house, once you realized what was

happening, no language

no God

no version of no

could save you.
Leila Emery

Originally from New England and currently residing in the South, Leila Emery received a BA in Comparative Literature from Smith College and a MA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She is a co-editor of and contributor to the forthcoming anthology Iranian Revelations: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora. Her work has appeared in Matter and Lines + Stars and is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review.

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