I keep dreaming I’m a creature pulling out my claws one by one

Three poems by Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar, from the book Calling a Wolf a Wolf (2017):



Sometimes God comes to earth disguised as rust,
chewing away a chain-link fence or a mariner’s knife.
From up so close we must seem
clumsy and gloomless, like new lovers

undressing in front of each other
for the first time. Regarding loss, I’m afraid
to keep it in the story,
worried what I might bring back to life,

like the marble angel who woke to find
his innards scattered around his feet.
Blood from the belly tastes sweeter
than blood from anywhere else. We know this

but don’t know why—the woman on TV
dabs a man’s gutwound with her hijab
then draws the cloth to her lips, confused.
I keep dreaming I’m a creature pulling out my claws

one by one to sell in a market stall next to stacks
of pomegranates and garden tools. It’s predictable,
the logic of dreams. Long ago I lived in Heaven
because I wanted to. When I fell to earth

I knew the way—through the soot, into the leaves.
It still took years. Upon landing, the ground
embraced me sadly, with the gentleness
of someone delivering tragic news to a child.



Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 26-year-old Iranian woman, was hanged on October 25th, 2014,
for killing a man who was attempting to rape her.

the body is a mosque borrowed from Heaven centuries of time
stain the glazed brick our skin rubs away like a chip
in the middle of an hourglass sometimes I am so ashamed

of my sentience how little it matters angels don’t care about humility
you shaved your head spent eleven days half-starved in solitary
and not a single divine trumpet wept into song now it’s lonely all over

I’m becoming more a vessel of memories than a person it’s a myth
that love lives in the heart it lives in the throat we push it out
when we speak when we gasp we take a little for ourselves

in books love can be war-ending a soldier drops his sword
to lie forking oysters into his enemy’s mouth in life we hold love up to the light
to marvel at its impotence you said in a letter to Sholeh

you weren’t even killing the roaches in your cell that you would take them up
by their antennae and flick them through the bars into a courtyard
where you could see men hammering long planks of cypress into gallows

the same men who years before threw their rings in the mud who watered them
five times daily who shot blackbirds off almond branches
and kissed the soil at the sight of sprouts then cursed each other when the stalks

which should have licked their lips withered dryly at their knees may God beat
us awake scourge our brains to life may we measure every victory
by the momentary absence of pain there is no solace in history this is a gift

we are given at birth a pocket we fold into at death goodbye now you mountain
you armada of flowers you entire miserable decade in a lump in my throat
despite all our endlessly rehearsed rituals of mercy it was you we sent on


Ways to Harm a Thing

Throw scissors at it.
Fill it with straw
and set it on fire, or set it
off for the colonies with only
some books and dinner-
plates and a stuffed bear
named Friend Bear for me
to lose in New Jersey.
Did I say me? Things
have been getting
less and less hypothetical
since I unhitched myself
from your bedpost. Everyone
I love is too modern
to be caught
grieving. In order
to be consumed
first you need to be consumable,
but there is not a single
part of you I could fit
in my mouth. In a dream
I pull back your foreskin
and reveal a fat vase
stuffed with crow
feathers. This seems a faithful
translation of the real thing. Another
way to harm something is to
melt its fusebox,
make it learn to live
in the dark. I still want
to suck the bones out
from your hands,
plant them like the seeds
we found in an antique
textbook, though those
never sprouted and may not
have even been seeds.
When I was a sailor I found
a sunken ziggurat, spent
weeks diving through room
after room discovering
this or that sacred
shroud. One way to bury
something is to bury it
forever. When I was water
you poured me out
over the dirt.

Katsushika Hokusai. Pair of sissors and sparrow. s/d. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

About the book

  • Alice James Books, 2017, 89 p. Goodreads
  • My rating: 5 stars

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