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Sholeh Wolpé
April 19, 2005

I Didn’t Ask For My Parents
It isn’t like you bend
your dainty spirit neck
down from God’s baby-soul-land
and point to a copulating couple
who strike your fancy.

Don’t think it works that way.

You are blind-folded
and shot down through heaven’s tunnel
into life and where you plop
willy-nilly that’s your home.

The Jewish couple may be in the act
at the same time as their Muslim neighbor.

Where you end up
even the cherub who pushed you off
the edge can’t know.

We grow up forgetting
our incidental placements
become fond of whatever
bread and religion we are fed.


Who has salvation
when we all claim it? 

*** *** *** ***

My Brother at the Canadian Border (for Omid)
On their way to Canada in a red Mazda, my brother and his friend, PhDs and little sense, stopped at the border and the guard leaned forward, asked: Where you boys heading?

My brother, Welcome to Canada poster in his eyes replied: Mexico. The guard blinked, stepped back then forward, said: Sir, this is the Canadian border. My brother turned to his friend, grabbed the map from his hands, slammed it on his shaved head. You stupid idiot, he yelled, you’ve been holding the map upside down.

In the interrogation room full of metal desks and chairs with wheels that squeaked and florescent light humming, bombarded with questions, and finally: Race?

Stymied, my brother confessed: I really don’t know, my parents never said, and the woman behind the desk widened her blue eyes to take in my brother’s olive skin, hazel eyes, the blonde fur that covered his arms and legs. Disappearing behind a plastic partition, she returned with a dusty book, thick as War and Peace, said: This will tell us your race. Where was your father born? She asked, putting on her horn-rimmed glasses. Persia, he said. Do you mean I-ran?

I ran, you ran, we all ran, he smiled. Where’s your mother from? Voice cold as a gun.

Russia, he replied. She put one finger on a word above a chart in the book, the other on a word at the bottom of the page, brought them together looking like a mad mathematician bent on solving the crimes of zero times zero divided by one. Her fingers stopped on a word. Declared: You are white.

My brother stumbled back, a hand on his chest, eyes wide, mouth in an O as in O my God! All these years and I did not know. Then to the room, to the woman and the guards: I am white I can go anywhere Do anything I can go to Canada and pretend it’s Mexico At last, I am white and you have no reason to keep me here.

*** *** *** ***

Prisoner in a Hole
Barely twenty-five, he smells
of yesterday’s spit and vomit,
black beard droops in clumps
from his drawn, sun-savaged face.

Hanging from a string
around his neck: a small holy book.

This man was once a child
held against the breast of a mother
who kissed his small meaty hands
that smelled of milk and tears.

Poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé was born in Persia but spent most of her teen years in the Caribbean and Europe, ending up in the U.S. where she pursued Masters degrees in Radio-TV-Film (Northwestern University) and Public Health (Johns Hopkins University). She is the author of The Scar Saloon (Red Hen Press, October 2004) and her poems and translations have been published in many literary journals and anthologies in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Her manuscript of translations of a selection of Forough Farrokhzad’s poetry is due for completion this September. Sholeh is the recipient of several awards for her poetry and is the director and host of Poetry at the Loft, a successful poetry venue in Redlands , Ca. She divides her time between Redlands and Newport Beach, California. More information:

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