cover image Sister Tongue

Sister Tongue

Farnaz Fatemi. Kent State Univ., $17 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-60635-444-5

Fatemi’s insightful and finely crafted debut takes place in the gap between Farsi and English, with poems drawing their roots from visits to family in Iran and the poet’s upbringing in California. Fatemi examines the nuances of language that cannot be translated. In “Untranslated,” she writes: “I was the child I’d never have.// I listened for clues./ I spoke without saying a thing,” later declaring, “In the languages/ of women I could have been// I felt both lonely and contained.” The poem poignantly closes: “I want the foreigner in me/ to meet the foreigner in me.” Elsewhere, she remembers her mother’s efforts to assimilate with striking clarity: “How easily she adopted Easter baskets/ —hollow bunnies in pink foil, eggs in plastic grass—/ wanted us to feel as American/ as our friends,” (“Radish Garden”). In “Sister Tongue,” she reflects, “On the plane to Iran, I inventory what I need. Words, ways to speak them, moments when they matter,” and in a later section, “word in the right place, at the right time, and my head feels saffron bright, pure sunlight.” Fatemi makes language think aloud and sing in these ruminative, beautiful poems. (Sept.)