Mother always had her way
with words, squinting at my page
to find herself, to catch my foreign
breath and let it linger, see it blister
in lines and die a full death. Ey,
she said when I teased her
for the hours she would spend,
for calling the flower, Gerumium,
for the way she spelled, Esnickar.
Ey, she said, Na Cun. And she
once corrected my English.
Dying trees stretch their bones
up and forward like hungry men,
the red spreading top–first, the wet
falling. Her broken words leave
traces in iced fossils of leaves,
her drying body in a rose
I clipped with the blunt tip
of my thumb.
I gather leaves
with my husband, saying I need
a red one, or, I need the one
that has no tears. Now they crunch
in pages of Khayyam. I think
of the letter I just read with words
cut out and rewritten. Circled above,
then scribbled, Daddy says like this.
She says a letter makes it way
to me. She says I ought to see
what words she's spelled this time.
I won't tell her what I write, but she
asks. Snow crowds a windowpane.
Frost blooms and fingers names.
Nebraska wind cuts quick. I've moved
geraniums in for winter. My aching
bones long for mother's words,
dried earth, blistered lines of green.
Susan Atefat-Peckham's poem appears in Let Me Tell You Where I've Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora edited by Persis M. Karim. Susasn received the National Poetry Series Award in 2000 for her collection of poems called “That Kind of Sleep.” She died in a tragic automobile accident in Jordon in 2004.