(Bam, earthquake 12/26/2003)
We haul errors into hospitals, sterilize causes,
strip nouns to pronouns. My father, a doctor
so excited about the process, forgets
it’s his own operation, speeds ahead.
With the hall light, he searches for broken bones in his X-ray,
speaks the ontology of washing my grandmother’s vagina,
insists there must be something more than blood. I’m afraid
to see him draped in a blue disposable gown.
I talk to him of Bam and Hassan, the guide, his stories
of the “biggest adobe in the world,” and the silk road.
But how can I derive the sense data for the clay fortress,
claimed from the desert? The orphan, the earth wanted back.
It’s because you don’t live there; he brings up the ancient urn,
that I am caught between art and fact. Who will you blame now?
He reminds me of Hassan’s family with 26,000 others
found in the rubble, the palms, the orange groves.
All I mutter about is the abandoned citadel
combed out of a hill, the battlement, the Four Seasons
Palace, the crushed bones of a city, the badgirs drinking
the breeze and quenching the rooms.
I remember him in California trying to persuade me.
It was spring. But the definitions had not blossomed.
He was looking for tautologies in suburbs. Where are
your children? his eyes staring down the empty road.
There was a silence the study of Buddhism brought.
I stopped practicing because I was losing anxiety.
From the far side of the valley, a blaze was rushing
toward us. The air stirred with ash. I wanted to ask
how you would treat the absence, the past in present.
What will be left after the facts? Performing ablution
by the pool, our lungs filled with the residue of burning.
The moon riding on the water, like a crushed Styrofoam cup.
Kaveh Bassiri is an Iranian-American writer and translator. He is the author of two chapbooks: 99 Names of Exile (2019), winner of the Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and Elementary English (2020), winner of Rick Campbell Chapbook Prize. His poetry has been published in Best American Poetry 2020, Best New Poets 2020, Virginia Quarterly Review, Copper Nickel, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Cincinnati Review, and Shenandoah. He is also the recipient of a 2019 translation fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, 2021 Individual Artist Fellowship from Arkansas Arts Council, and 2021-2023 Tulsa Artist Fellowship.