The World Grows Blackthorn Walls

14 May, 2021

Painting by Kehinde Wiley,

Paint­ing by Kehinde Wiley, “Mrs. Sid­dons” with a black­thorn back­ground inspired by William Mor­ris (cour­tesy artist Kehinde Wiley).

a poem by Sholeh Wolpé


Tall, stiff and spiny,
try to make it to the oth­er side
and risk sav­age thorns. 

We who left home in our teens, 
chil­dren who crossed bound­aries and were torn
by its thou­sand ser­rat­ed tongues, we
who bear scars that bloom and bloom
beneath healed skins, 
who have we become? 

I ask myself:
is home my ghost?
Does it wear my under­wear
fold­ed neat­ly in the antique chest
of draw­ers I bought twen­ty years ago,
nest inside my blouse that hangs
from one met­al hang­er I’ve been mean­ing to dis­card?
Is it lost between these lines of books
shelved alpha­bet­i­cal in a lan­guage 
I was not born to? Or here on the lip
of this chipped cup left behind
by my lover long gone? 

I car­ry seeds in my mouth. Plant 
turmer­ic, car­damom, and tiny 
aro­mat­ic cucum­bers in this gar­den. 
Water them with rain I wring
from my grand­moth­er’s songs.  
They will grow, I know, against these black­thorn walls. 
They can push through any­thing, uncut. 

I left home at thir­teen. 
I had­n’t lived enough to know how
not to love.  
Home was the Caspi­an Sea, the busy bazaars, 
the aro­ma of kebab and rice, Fri­day  
lunch­es, pic­nics by moun­tain streams. 
I nev­er meant to stay away. 

They said come back
and you will die. 

Exile is a suit­case with a bro­ken strap.
I fill up a hun­dred note­books with scrib­bles,                                                                   
throw them into fire and begin to write again, 
this time tat­too­ing the words on my fore­head,
this time writ­ing only not to forget. 

Com­pla­cen­cy is com­mu­ni­ca­ble like the com­mon cold.  
I swim upstream to lay my pur­ple eggs. 

They say draw sus­te­nance from this land,
but look how my fruits hang in spi­rals
and smell of old note­books and lace. 

What is a trans­plant­ed tree 
but a time being 
who has adapt­ed to adoption? 

Spir­its urge and spir­its go,
but I speak only to the future. 
Per­haps it’s only in exile that spir­its arrive.  
They weep and wail at the door of the tem­ple 
where I sit at the edge of an abyss.  

But even this is an illusion. 


 From Aba­cus of Loss, forth­com­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Arkansas Press, March 2022. 

Sholeh Wolpé—(Poetry Editor) Sholeh Wolpé was born in Iran and lived in Trinidad and the UK before settling in the US. She is a poet, playwright and librettist. Her most recent book, Abacus of Loss: A Memoir in Verse (March 2022) is hailed by Ilya Kaminsky as a book “that created its own genre—a thrill of lyric combined with the narrative spell.” Her literary work includes a dozen books, several plays, an oratorio/opera, and several  multi-genre performance pieces. Her translations of Attar and Forugh Farrokhzad have garnered awards and established Sholeh Wolpé as a celebrated re-creator of Persian poetry into English. Recently she was the subject of a Metropolitan Museum of Art Spotlight, The Long Journey Home. Presently a writer-in-residence at UCI, she divides her time between Los Angeles and Barcelona. For more information about her work visit her website. You’ll also find her on FacebookYouTube and Instagram.

Caspian SeaexileIranian Americanpoetry


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