Table of Contents

Home Stories

Autumn Letter by Susan Atefat-Peckham
Home Stories by Zara Houshmand
Dokhtar-e Amrika’i by Farnoosh Seiffodini
Dokhtar-e Irani by Farnoosh Seiffodini
Separation by Farnaz Fatemi
The Sun is a Dying Star by Niloofar Kalaam
En Route to Persepolis by Amy Motlagh
Timing by Sheila Shirazi
Against the Kitchen White Wall by Michelle Koukhab
Road Trip by Shahrzad Zahedi
The Break by Gelareh Asayesh (from Saffron Sky)
Home by Shadi Ziaei
Persian Princess Insania by Leyla Momeny
Naderi by Amy Motlagh
Where Does My Language Lie? by Zjaleh Hajibashi
In the Gutter by Sanaz Banu Nikaein
Inheritance by Mitra Parineh
Revolution 1979 by Tara Bahrampour
Portland, Oregon 1979 by Tara Bahrampour
With a Little Help From My Friends by Firoozeh Dumas (from Funny in Farsi)
Another Quiet New Year by Nika Khanjani
My Brother at the Canadian Border by Sholeh Wolpé
1979 by PAZ
Captions by Layli Shirani
Arrivals and Departures by Sharon L. Parker
Excerpt from To See and See Again by Tara Bahrampour

For Tradition

For Tradition by Susan Atefat-Peckham
Sister by Farnaz Fatemi
Twin by Farnaz Fatemi
The Persian Bath by Michelle Koukhab
A Love Song by Parinaz Eleish
Pomegranates by Persis M. Karim
Passover by Amy Motlagh
Ajun by Mahru Elahi
Next Year in Cyprus by Tarssa Yazdani
Recovery by Nasrin Rahimieh
Baba’s Passing by Persis M. Karim
Joys of a Simple Meal by Esther Kamkar
Raw Walnuts by Negin Neghabat
The Camel and the Cantaloupe by Michelle Koukhab
Ode to the Eggplant by Persis M. Karim
Torches by Susan Atefat-Peckham

Woman’s Duty

Avenue Vali Asr by Susan Atefat-Peckham
Woman’s Duty by Tara Fatemi
The Next Day is So Still by Nika Khanjani
Waiting for Ulysses by Laleh Khalili
The Woman Has Veto Power by Haleh Hatami
On The Rooftop by Farnoosh Moshiri
If You Change Your Nose by Leyla Momeny
Iranian Women by Mojdeh Marashi
Love in a Time of Struggle by Azadeh Moaveni (from Lipstick Jihad)
Becoming a Woman by Elham Gheytanchi
The World Was A Couple by Katayoon Zandvakili
The Gift by Marjan Kamali
The Execution of Atefeh by Persis M. Karim
Bad by Sanaz Banu Nikaein
Summoning by Haleh Hatami
Masouleh by Parinaz Eleish
Words to Die For by Esther Kamkar
Fariba’s Daughters by Susan Atefat-Peckham

Axis of Evil

Lower Manhattan by Susan Atefat-Peckham
Another Day and Counting by Zara Houshmand
Axis of Evil by Persis M. Karim
How Lucky Persimmons Are by Parinaz Eleish
Mamaan-bozorg by Farnoosh Seiffodini
In the Gutter by Sanaz Banu Nikaein
The Witness by Roxanne Varzi
American Again by Parissa Milani
Butcher Shop by Sholeh Wolpé
Iranians v. Persians by Sanaz Banu Nikaein
Invitation to the Hungry Ghosts by Zara Houshmand
When Toys Are Us by Beatrice Motamedi
As Good as Any Other Day by Parinaz Eleish
Dawn on the Fall Equinox by Persis M. Karim
Instilling Shock and Awe by Farnoosh Seifoddini
Summer Day by Parinaz Eleish


Sestinelle for Travelers by Susan Atefat-Peckham
The Best Reason to Write a Poem is Still for Love by Farnaz Fatemi
Perfectly Parallel Mirrors by Laleh Khalili
Money Buys by Sanaz Banu Nikaein
Once by Zjaleh Hajibashi
Stones in the Garden by Layla Dowlatshahi
Stripes by Katayoon Zandvakili
Magical Chair of Nails: Becoming a Writer in a Second Language by Roya Hakakian
Us Four by Sanaz Banu Nikaein
The Eglantine Deal by Katayoon Zandvakili
The Sandcastle by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet
Ghazal by Mimi Khalvati
Mandala at Manzanar by Zara Houshmand
Beyond by Persis M. Karim
Only the Blue Remains Unchanged by Parinaz Eleish

Tales Left Untold

Night Conversations by Susan Atefat-Peckham
Do You Miss Me? by Roya Hakakian
Lost Karbala by Haleh Hatami
Sing by Farnoosh Seifoddoni
Earth and Water by Zara Houshmand
Tales Left Untold by Aphrodite Desirée Navab
Because of Hands and Bread by Esther Kamkar
Soleiman’s Silence by Mehri Yalfani
Standing in a Mosque Contemplating Faith by Farnaz Fatemi
Sabze by Zarreh
Years Later by Parinaz Eleish
Native by Amanda Enayati
Unpacking by Zara Houshmand
Blessing by Mimi Khalvati
Green World Through Broken Glass by HAALE
A Return by Kandi Tayebi
Blood by Azin Arefi
13 Days by Parissa Milani
Ari by Mahru Elahi
Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been by Persis M. Karim
Cardamom and Hell by Haleh Hatami
Nazr by Zara Houshmand

From the Introduction by Persis M. Karim, Editor of Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been

I began the process of compiling the material for Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been four years ago almost by accident. After the publication of A World Between, I received countless letters and email submissions by young writers (again almost all women) asking if there would be a second anthology. Many of these writers sent me their work and asked for advice about publishing. In a strange way, I found myself a kind of accidental literary midwife—helping to give birth to the literature of this Iranian diaspora. I made it my personal mission to promote A World Between after it was published because I felt it offered a positive public identity for Iranians who had struggled to free themselves from the shadows of the hostage crisis and the inadvertent silence and shame that it caused for the Iranian community in the United States only to be subsequently buffeted back into hiding by the acceptable racism that accompanied the Persian Gulf War in 1991. As I traveled to San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Walnut Creek, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Austin where I organized readings of the book with some of its authors, I was amazed and impressed at the public response. Those readings may have had more impact than the book itself. They became a curious and moving type of performance, created a stage from which to announce our arrival, and publicly captured the multiplicity of voices, experiences and humanity of the Iranians of the diaspora. The experience of reading from and speaking about the book, and most of all, of watching my young and passionate co-authors gather their conviction by taking the stage, helped me to see just how hungry Iranian-Americans were for a literary voice. In it they sought a literature that was different from that of Iranians writing and publishing in Persian. In a sense, writers and readers, were looking to understand the experiences and reflections of Iranians in North America, separate from those of Iranians in Iran.

One of the interesting conversations that emerged from the  publishing of A World Between and subsequent readings in the US, focused on what to actually call ourselves. I  intentionally used the term “Iranian-American” in the title of A World Between to identify the experiences of Iranians who migrated to North America in large numbers after the 1979 revolution. I have used “Iranian-American in part to identify the experience of migration and assimilation that connects this ethnic group to other immigrant groups that have struggled with their own identification with the homeland and the host country. People of Mexican heritage are a good example of this parallel; depending on their generation or location in the U.S., they refer to themselves as “Latino,” “Mexican,” “Chicano,” etc. These terms represent different stages of the immigrant experience and are influenced by the political and cultural context in which they are living. The search for a name or label represents the complex and dynamic process by which immigrant groups stake out cultural and political ground.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many Iranians referred to themselves as “Persians” (a linguistic distinction) in an effort to distance themselves from the actions and policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The term “Iranian-American,” however, has proved to be complicated for the many Iranians living in multiple contexts—America, Europe, and those who seem to gravitate back to Iran even after long periods of time in the United States. It is for this reason, that this collection casts a wider net and includes writings by women of the Iranian diaspora who live in several locations. This book, like A World Between reflects literary and cultural expressions shaped by experiences of exile, immigration, otherness and assimilation, and by the complexity of these experiences, rather than the singular or stereotyped images that have been promulgated by the media. This book also represents the idea that any so-called “ethnic” literature simultaneously participates in and resists the boxes and ghettoes that are constructed by publishers, readers, and even those editors who, like me, compile anthologies from a single category or group of writers. My goal here is to present what I consider to be some of the most recent and compelling poems and narratives by women (written in English) of the Iranian diaspora that I have had the pleasure of reading. No doubt, I will be criticized for omissions of some well-known writers and for inclusion of less experienced ones.

The selections in Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been, however, represent what I consider the next step in the “literary maturation” of Iranian diaspora writing. Because women have emerged as the driving force of Iranian-American literature, I decided to make women the focus for this collection. Since the late 1990’s several memoirs have been published in the United States that reflect the experiences of Iranian women in America. Books like To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America (1999) by Tara Bahrampour, Saffron Sky: A Life Between Iran and America (1999) by Gelareh Asayesh, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) by Azar Nafisi, Funny in Farsi: Growing Up Iranian in America (2004) by Firoozeh Dumas, Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran (2004) by Roya Hakakian, and Lipstick Jihad: Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran (2005) by Azadeh Moaveni, have met with remarkable success in part because they have complicated our notions of Iranian women and articulate the ways that women respond to, remember and utter their “Iranianness”—on more than one continent and in more than one political and social context. Excerpts from some of those previously published memoirs are included here.

Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been shares some of the same sentiments as these recently published memoirs, but brings together a large and diverse collection of writing by women poets, novelists and nonfiction writers. Some of the authors included in Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been like Zara Houshmand, Katayoon Zandvakili, Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet, and Nasrin Rahimieh have been published in journals and other anthologies, including A World Between and herein reflects their more recent work.

One of the most satisfying experiences of having edited A World Between was that it introduced me to so many wonderful writers and poets. I came to know Susan Atefat-Peckham after she read that anthology; over nearly two years, we had a series of wonderful, thoughtful exchanges via email about poetry, writing, and Iranianness. She was very supportive of my efforts and generously offered some of her poems for this collection. I have included some of her previously published poems for which she was named winner of the 2000 National Poetry Series and which appear in her collection That Kind of Sleep (2001).  Atefat-Peckham’s writing expresses a sensitivity to language and experience in both the context of Iran and the United States. Sadly, her prolific and successful writing career was cut short by a fatal car accident that killed her and her young son, Cyrus in Jordan in 2004 where she was teaching on a Fulbright fellowship. Joel Peckham, Susan’s husband, and a fine poet in his own right, has generously given me permission to include four of her previously unpublished poems: “Night Conversations,” “Sestinelle for Travelers,” “Lower Manhattan,” and “Torches”. I am pleased and proud to include eight of her poems here. As a kind homage to her life and work, each of the five sections opens with one of her poems.

By bringing together selections of more accomplished writers with younger, less-experienced writers, this anthology presents for the first time a chorus of women’s voices within Iranian diaspora literature. In part, this collection aspires to be a kind of barometer for the emerging literature of the Iranian diaspora. While the collection highlights those who write in English, other countries that have sizeable Iranian populations such as Sweden, France, and Germany have seen an emergence of Iranian diaspora literature. Marjane Satrapi’s series of graphic novels, (written originally in French) Persepolis and Persepolis 2 and her more recently translated, Embroideries are among those that have achieved international success. In addition to their widespread translation into many languages, her novels are made more accessible through her use of the comic strip genre.

The idea of an emerging literature of the Iranian diaspora is suggestive of the way that the common experiences of Iranian immigrants and second-generation writers can be articulated in a collection of this breadth. These writers do have experiences in common, but because of where they were born, raised, or the circumstances of their or their family’s immigration, there are notable differences. That is partly what makes this a literature in the process of emerging and what makes it interesting to witness at this juncture.

From the foreword by Al Young, Poet Laureate of California

Moving at different temporal and personal velocities, each of the 53 observer-contributors to Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been present  dramatically altered notions of simultaneity. Thankfully, they weigh in oddly, waywardly. We readers get their reassuring drift. Life goes on, no matter what. Hope stays alive. Crushing events in Iran send Iranians fleeing to the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand , Sweden, France, Germany and other western-aligned countries. The paradox, the irony of this course is that the most powerful of those western countries, the United States, often holds  Iran’s leadership hostage. 
Still, émigrés rarely lose touch with their country of origin. That the voices we hear resound the same unmistakable cultural touchstones tells us where these women have been by reminding us  -- to snuggle into American usage -- where they (or those closest to them) are coming from. Whichever generation sounds the note, cries or moans the blues, you’ll have no trouble making out the physical  and sensual references as they surface again and again: Tehran, Shiraz, Esfahan (poet Sharzad Zahedi even speaks of Los Angeles; Iranian community as “tehrangeles”), tea (chai sonati) and tea-houses, Turkish coffee, sweets, the food, pomegranates, backgammon, perfume, the smell of Gilani straw mats, the body-cloaking chadors that devotional city and wear in Iran, , the howz (a household garden pool), walnuts, Tehran (poet mazeh (bar snacks), scarves, Persian rugs, cadamon (“the sweet sharp / musky / green smell / that lurks in the back of kitchen cupboards”), hand-holding,; the innumerable ways in which women admire and adore one another, social expectations, the carrying-out of daughterly duties (for Baba as well as Mami). Such natural detail delights as much as it pinpoints.

Poetry, stories, music, drama, paintings, dance – all art helps dissolves base ignorance. The paths along which art and soul proceed still buzz and hum with traffic. How can we look at, listen to, touch, hear or inhale the scent of anything or anyone from any distance and still not sense so much as the vastness of this intimacy we share?  For proof that culture crosses borders to make a home in territories for which armies have no maps, look no further than the book you now hold in your hands. In Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora, Persis K. Karim has handed us not just one, but a whole ring of keys to unlatch the many doors and windows that shut out air and light: the breath and vision of two nations who ideally will one day target and shake hands on some mutually rewarding goals.

Meanwhile, this singular anthology will give the world an urgent idea of where we need to go to meaningfully refill the gap, the grand, building-block emptiness against which all life continuously re-creates and invents itself anew.

Samples from Let Me Tell You Where I've Been

By Parinaz Eleish

There are flies resting on the mantle.
The samovar boils.
My aunt swings by in her brick-red hair,
little blue scarf and click-clack shoes.
There is sun in my cup
and sun on the wall.
The mountain painted with tea plants
and mud roofs ends far below
in a rice field green as an emerald sea.
And we drink tea in our saucers
in this slow afternoon of crimson heat.

Copyright by Parinaz Eleish

Lower Manhattan
by Susan Atefat-Peckham

"If you're lost, look for the World Trade Center,
and you'll find your way home."
                                                --a passerby

                        From the United Nations
International School, on FDR Drive
and 25th Street, Mother and I walked
the wind north fifteen blocks to meet
Father who waited for us at the United
Nations, the Hudson river lapping
its edges, lifting our hair to the brass
of rush hour traffic.  And the twin
towers gleamed with western sunlight
if I looked over my small shoulder.  
If you are lost, look for this shining,
shadows looming over the bay
as the Staten Island Ferry pushed
its way from Lower Manhattan
through Hudson water, home to
New Jersey, the skyline receding
till the towers slipped between
the closing pinch of my thumb
and forefinger, my eye just behind. 
This city, in the palms of my hands,
beneath spaces of clamped fingers,
where I carried it to France, Iran,
Switzerland, Texas, Nebraska,
Michigan, where I still hold it
the years I've left it behind.  How
will I find my way home?  My palms
burn.  If you are lost, look
for my eyes, hot in your hands,
Carry me there, bright, burning,
and alive.

Copyright Estate of Susan Atefat-Peckham

Another Day and Counting
by Zara Houshmand

It’s routine now:
I drive my son to school,
the sun just breaking through Pacific mist.
Driving home, I listen to the news
and quietly cry. 

My son won’t listen anymore:
“All opinions, hot air.  Call me when they find some facts.”
Proud and fragile privilege of youth:
demand the truth.

The sky recedes, ashamed. 
What passes now for truth on this cold ball?
The sky is pink with shame
beyond the concrete ribbons where commuters crawl.
What’s in that microscopic dust
that bends our light to post-card pinks?
Dust of concrete hopes exploded,
dust of homes of sun-baked brick,
complex chains of human dust
and dust of promises to youth.

Tonight my cheeseburger arrives
with a flag poked proudly in the bun.
The tiny paper stars and stripes seem far away,
victory through the wrong end of the telescope,
moon-landing on the circle of my plate.
The waitress smiles broadly,
but the food tastes bad,
or maybe I’ve just lost my appetite.

Copyright by Zara Houshmand

American Again

by Parissa Milani

I am Iranian
Until I open my mouth. Then
I am American.

But if I promise to not even breathe
through my mouth, will you take me in?
Will you take me to the Caspian Sea
and tell me it’s always been so close?
Will you take me to Esfahan
and tell me I’ve been there before?
Will you take me to the bazaars of Tehran
and tell me I have haggled for
ripe pomegranates and sour plums?

Will you forgive me for playing
dodge ball in America
while my brothers and sisters
dodged bombs in Iran?
Will you forgive me for loving
the flag you once hated?
Will you forgive me for
deserting you?

Will you understand if
it gets hard for me to
breathe easy and I am
American again?

Copyright by Parissa Milani

Butcher Shop
by Sholeh Wolpé

Aisha was gunned down
in her father’s butcher shop.
She was twenty-four, a virgin,
had a cat named Hanna.

The boys in black bandanas
the ones with large dark eyes
that devour light
wanted her brother.

And what better place for blood
than a butcher shop
where it already covers
the counters, stains the white aprons,
is sold in long red sausages.

Copyright by Sholeh Wolpé

by Persis M. Karim

In loving memory of my Baba

 To root themselves in their new home
 Mother and Baba planted native trees: madrone, oak
 and the manzanita at the end of the drive.
 To remind them of their foreignness
 they planted olive, almond, quince, pomegranate.

The first time my mother packed one in my lunch
 I shrank in embarrassment, quickly returning
 the leathery bulb to the brown bag.
 How to eat a pomegranate without being conspicuous?
 It is a slow and exacting endeavor,
 an act of worship.

You never slice them with a knife, my father would say
when the September heat made the trees
sag with the ornaments of autumn.
In his world, men sold them on the streets
for a few toumans, shouting, “Anar-e Khoshmazeh!”
“delicious pomegranates!” rolling the sun-flushed 
hides between two palms.
Customers at the corner of a cart,
kneaded, coaxed the last of the blood-red juice
from a hole, allowing it to touch only their lips.

Our American sensibility refused this technique.
We never took their exotic form for granted.
“Throw them in the air, let them crack open!”
my brothers yelled, waiting for the quiet
thud and then, the invisible seam
that split them open like an unhealed wound.
We liked the splatter of color on face and hands,
 evidence of pomegranate carnage.

In my twenties, I finally understood the fecund symbol.
A magazine in the chiropractor’s office
advised women wanting to conceive.
Eat estrogen-rich foods: shrimp, scallops,
pomegranates. Like the larvae of some magical butterfly
the red ovules offered a cure for barren women.

There are two kinds of people in the world:
those who pluck the seeds from the waxy yellow
membrane, tossing them into their mouths--
And those who hoard the ruby jewels,
jealousy guarding the pile until the last
crimson kernel is extracted.

Once in a child's game of war,
my brother plucked a pomegranate,
tore its feathery crown, and with a heave
mimicked the sound of a grenade
exploding with his mouth full of saliva.
“Bury it!”  I said, looking at its inedible remains.
Baba would not tolerate such sacrilege.

When I learned a Sephardic version of the fall--
that it was a pomegranate and not an apple
I felt a kind of secret pride.
It's too cold for apples in the Garden of Eden,
I told a friend, knowing with certainty
they wouldn't be wearing fig leaves.

This fall, my two-year-old son,
undaunted, eats his first pomegranate.
His tiny, probing fingers, harvest the seeds
one by one. With hands stained
by this baptism, he offers them to me
like the remnants of an untold story
inherited in the womb.

Copyright by Persis M. Karim





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