Persis Karim is poet, editor and professor of World & Comparative Literature at San Francisco State University. She holds the Neda Nobari Endowed Chair and serves as director of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals including: Callaloo, Reed Magazine, The Raven’s Perch, and The New York Times. She is the editor of three anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature and is glad to be tending to her own poetry manuscript, Accidental Architecture, which was selected a finalist for the Catamaran Review Prize in June 2019.
*Persis featured at the 2020 San Mateo County Peninsula Virtual Bookfest; and in “Empower Women, Empower Earth: Poetry Reading & Panel Discussion” hosted by Skyline College.
Poem on Belonging
To stand in one place and shelter against the invisible and unknown is to stop the rolling wheel of my heart, seeking the next road, the next eye full of beauty. I was not meant to be fearful— to hold my love inside, indoors, like a captive waiting to be unchained. I live for molecules and patterns, the architecture of a flower, the flight and song of sparrow, gull, cormorant, each animal and tree an anthem— the only true thing I want to abide.
Copyright © 2020 by Persis Karim. This poem originally appeared in MiGoZine. Used with permission of the author.
THE SEED COLLECTOR’S DAUGHTER
For my Mother, Evelyne M. Karim
She didn’t seem to notice how the squash
seeds on the counter took over. They were the first
to invade the area around the kitchen sink. Later, grape, tomato,
eggplant seeds and fava beans found their way onto a cutting board
or on a small dish. When we tried to move or discard them,
she balked and told us she would move them. Small jars and glasses
began to appear: sprig of thyme, twig of red begonia, elbow of spearmint.
She guarded them as if they were her children. Outside, under the Madrone
that she took as a sapling on a walk in the hills with my father
She built a make-shift nursery. Under the tree’s filtered
shade, she cultivated seedlings of every sort: annuals, perennials,
cuttings of pomegranate, fig, lemon. She had no desire to buy plants—
they spoke to her, greeted her as if she were a fairy
sent to rescue and cajole them into future seasons.
I see now how seeds a way for her to belong. She was making a home —
giving us and them roots. This was her habit—
a way to propagate while she inhabited the world
Sometimes walking with her in the neighborhood,
we shrank as we passed a neighbor’s house where she had snipped
a cutting, or crossed their property to pick seeds or pods —Lilac, Salvia,
Ceanothus, Oak. It mattered not whether they were tree or bush, native
or exotic. To her they all belonged equally
in her garden.
Now, I find myself with pockets full
of seeds. Last week red clover, this week rattlesnake
grass. And after the yellow lupine pods harden, I’ll gather
those too. Some people think of this as stealing
or poor man’s gardening, but it is my duty.
I remember her holding acorns in her right hand, my palm
in her left. Like a bird, she moved life across time and space,
making things come alive. She believed in
giving plants a place to rest after the exertion
of a bloom. She understood the hard seed
of hope that must realize its possibility. I know this need I
to cultivate beginnings.
I am the seed collector’s daughter.
Copyright © 2022 by Persis Karim. This poem originally appeared in Nowruz Journal 2022. Used with permission of the author.