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by Solmaz Sharif

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*Finalist for the 2017 PEN Open Book Award*
*Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award*

Solmaz Sharif's astonishing first book, Look, asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable loss of human lives and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech. In this virtuosic array of poems, lists, shards, and sequences, Sharif assembles her


*Finalist for the 2017 PEN Open Book Award*
*Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award*

Solmaz Sharif's astonishing first book, Look, asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable loss of human lives and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech. In this virtuosic array of poems, lists, shards, and sequences, Sharif assembles her family's and her own fragmented narratives in the aftermath of warfare. Those repercussions echo into the present day, in the grief for those killed in America's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the discrimination endured at the checkpoints of daily encounter.

At the same time, these poems point to the ways violence is conducted against our language. Throughout this collection are words and phrases lifted from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms; in their seamless inclusion, Sharif exposes the devastating euphemisms deployed to sterilize the language, control its effects, and sway our collective resolve. But Sharif refuses to accept this terminology as given, and instead turns it back on its perpetrators. "Let it matter what we call a thing," she writes. "Let me look at you."

Daily I sit
with the language
they've made

of our language

like you.

You are what is referred to as

--from "Personal Effects"

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Natalie Diaz
The poet and activist June Jordan once wrote that "poetry means taking control of the language of your life." Solmaz Sharif does just that in her excellent debut collection, Look, pushing readers to acknowledge a lexicon of war she has drawn from the Defense Department's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Language, in this collection, is called upon as victim, executioner and witness…In Sharif's rendering, Look is at once a command to see and to grieve the people these words describe—and also a means of implicating the reader in the violence delivered upon those people.
Publishers Weekly
★ 06/20/2016
Sharif defies power, silence, and categorization in this stunning suite of poems and lyric sequences that examine the toll of war and the language of war on persons and tongues. Drawing upon the lexicon of the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Sharif produces a document of her Iranian family history, her personal life, and a shared cultural history intertwined with war and surveillance: “Daily I sit/ with the language/ they’ve made// of our language// to NEUTRALIZE/ the CAPABILITY of LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS/ like you.” Elegies for her Amoo (uncle), who was killed in the Iran-Iraq War, share space with lists of war atrocities and the banalities of military life, lyric poems about her immigrant family’s experiences of surveillance, excoriations of Israeli apartheid and war crimes, and redacted letters to a detainee. Sharif returns repeatedly to the DOD dictionary terms, resulting in brief, fragmented, and powerful accounts of terror: “they LOOK down from their jets and declare my mother’s Abadan block PROBABLY DESTROYED, we walked by the villas, the faces of buildings torn off into dioramas, and recorded it on a hand-held camcorder.” In form, content, and execution, Sharif’s debut is arguably the most noteworthy book of poetry yet about recent U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greater Middle East. (July)
From the Publisher

“[An] excellent debut collection. . . . In Sharif's rendering, Look is at once a command to see and to grieve the people these words describe—and also a means of implicating the reader in the violence delivered upon these people. . . . An artful lexicographer, Sharif shows us that the diameter of a word is often as devastating as the diameter of a bomb.”New York Times Book Review

“Sharif’s skillful debut collection draws on a Defense Department lexicon of military terms.”The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

“Remarkable. . . . By turns fierce and tender, the poems are a searing response to American intervention.” The New Yorker

“A restless, gorgeous book of poetry.”—Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker Page-Turner

“[Sharif's] poetry flicks between lyric and lexicon while still sounding like music; in her hands, language is as pliant as warmed wax. . . . It is the central miracle of Look that Sharif shows us the real intensity of her conceit without veering into triteness. She is, in turns, icy and searing, but consistently fierce and beautiful.” —NPR.org

“Sharif defies power, silence, and categorization in this stunning suite. . . . In form, content, and execution, Sharif's debut is arguably the most noteworthy book of poetry yet about recent U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greater Middle East.”—Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*

“[Sharif] forces you to suspend yourself and consider your relationship to language really deeply.”—NPR, All Things Considered

“A powerful collection of verse. . . . [Sharif] turns a system of language back onto itself. . . . remarkably profound.”BOMB Magazine

“[Solmaz] Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East.”The Paris Review

“[An] impressive debut collection. . . . Sharif begins to replace what has been displaced, or to reclaim displacement from official state power. And it produces a vibrant, dissonant poetry that refuses to calcify.” Boston Review

“An urgent collection. . . . [Sharif's poems] work at the more radical aim of challenging the reader's complacency. . . . [They] demand witness.”Bookforum

“A brilliant dive into how war affects people and language. . . . In the vein of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Look is, at its core, a political call to attention: If we are to combat the effects of war on people and language, we must first understand how war permeates our society and culture. To this end, Look is not only relevant, but eye opening.”The Los Angeles Review

“Astonishing. . . . [Sharif is] a formidable poetic talent. . . . Sharif casts the light of her imagination into the world's darkest places.”San Francisco Chronicle

Look creates an after-image similar to that of Robin Coste Lewis’ National Book Award-winning 2015 debut, Voyage of the Sable Venus, with its meditation on the long aftermath of slavery and diaspora. Like that book, Look feels like a disassembled museum exhibit with the occluded stories — the ones not told — written into view. Look, it compels you to do, and you will.”Los Angeles Times

“Though this is her first book, Look displays none of the hesitations of a debut writer. Sharif is in command of her abilities, the book at once complete and unified, but varied in subject, tone, and form. It’s a distinguished introduction.”Literary Hub

“[Sharif] closes the distance between the trigger and the wounded, between language and the body. She makes it impossible to look away.”The Margins

Look is a book that disrupts, fervently and effectively. The poems within are allergic to complacency and linguistic hypnosis; they constantly reach, inquire, prod, and wonder—sometimes with force—and refuse to allow the reader to be lulled into the sense that everything is okay in the world.”—The Rumpus

“Sharif’s writing is sparkling, precise, subtle, artful, and true. . . . Through the fine achievement of Look, Solmaz Sharif gives us the gift of her unflinching gaze.”Kenyon Review Online

“Words can be powerful and Sharif uses them to their full potential. . . . This is a brilliant book of poetry.”MuslimGirl

“An important corrective against the weaponised rhetoric we now confront daily in the media and in our personal lives.”The Poetry School

“Look is surprisingly tender for a book of such ferocious poetry. . . . A deeply human attempt to rewrite the vocabulary of war.”Vox

“Sharif’s Look is ambitious, intelligent, moving, important, and a little dangerous.”Drunken Odyssey

“Sharif has been deeply and irreparably impacted by war and injustice, and she is deft at modulating her voice in this collection, scaling between broad, abstract critique and deeply intimate reflection.”Fourth & Sycamore

“Creating poetry that is beautiful is hard, and so is creating poetry that is socially important. Poets who manage to do both simultaneously are treasures. In Look, Sharif provocatively turns the veiled, euphemistic language of the American war machine against itself by crafting poetry from words and lines in the United States Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. The result is profound, at points humorous, and sobering.”Fourth & Sycamore, Best Books of 2016

“Raw, unsparing poems. . . . Highly recommended.”—Library Journal *Starred Review*

“A complicated, commanding account of contemporary American life. . . . The poems in Look shift between clear-eyed description and exhausting wariness, painful in their honest assessment of the destruction caused by our present conflicts and ways of being. . . . Look has been published just when it is most needed. . . . The work [these poems] do is utterly necessary. . . . To see another person's humanness: Look calls us back to this most simple, this most essential task.”Harvard Review

“There are few books, whether debuts or not, to more anticipated than the publication of Solmaz Sharif’s Look.Literary Hub

“Sharif’s work transcends the standard tropes of political poetry. Neither didactic nor angry, her poems delicately balance sadness and loss, anxiety and fear and hope and humor. . . . Illuminating and heartbreaking, Look demands that the reader pay attention to their own relationship with the adopted, euphemistic language of power, politics and destruction.”Spectrum Culture

“Look explores the myriad ways how we go to war today reverberates through communities and states and across the world — taking a critical stance against the way humans wage war against other countries, wage war with ourselves, and even wage war against our own language and means of expressing (or not) the inherent truths about our lives. . . . Intimate and haunting.”Bustle

“Sharif’s poems are rich with imagery; a single line of hers can tell an entire story.”Huffington Post

“As heart-wrenching as they are intriguing, these highly anticipated poems are beautifully devastating.”BookTrib

Look achieves Wallace Stevens’ critical standard of poetry by deftly responding to the true spirit of the time in which it is written. . . . [Look] is no ordinary book. . . . Crossing into such volatile aesthetic terrain charged with a radical decadence, this collection threatens even the relevance of such superlatives with obliteration. Quite possibly, it deserves to be called dangerous.”Colorado Review

“Urgent, prophetic, and virtuosic. . . . [Sharif] rages against the dull machine of war by turning its weapons against it—into poems with which she hopes to provoke a sleeping community out of its ‘learned helplessness.’”—The The Poetry

“There is so much here that compels. . . . Sharif's collection activates the role of observer by stunning back into awareness the wounds that still suppurate, lighting the holes cut from language and their respective tears in American thinking.”The Lit Pub

“Look demonstrates not only that language is an integral part of the military arsenal but also that poetry remains a subversive act, arefusal to submit to despair or amnesia.”The Critical Flame

Look opens the way for a new internationalist regard in American poetry. . . . Solmaz Sharif has produced an extraordinary and vital work of poetry.”Puritan Magazine

“Solmaz Sharif’s Look is something great. She throws us a brilliant, even perfect, book of poems sadly central to the nightmare of today.”—Eileen Myles

“By unearthing, decoding, and reconstructing half-hidden symbols of power built into nomenclature as well as everyday expression, the poet serves truth—sometimes delicately, other times brutally. . . . Each phrase pulls the reader into a system of being, personal and historical, and Look, line by line, extends toward prophecy and ('I am singing to her still') harmony.” —Yusef Komunyakaa

“Solmaz Sharif's beautiful and important poems patrol the boundaries and limits of language. . . . I can’t remember a more distinguished debut.”—Eavan Boland

“I haven’t been as excited about a first book of poetry for a long time as I am about Solmaz Sharif’s forthcoming Look. . . . This feels like an important book, not just a good one.”—David Baker

Library Journal
★ 06/15/2016
Destruction radius. Collateral. Distressed person. Language can be so drained of emotional content that we're safely distanced from the reality behind it. But in these raw, unsparing poems, Rona Jaffe Award winner Sharif closes the gap, making language itself the issue as she investigates the consequences—particularly for herself and her family—of America's invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ("My life in the American/ Dream is a DOWNGRADE"). Chillingly, Sharif often splices in phrases taken from the U.S. Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military Terms ("Ladies, bring your KILL BOX, Boys, your HUNG WEAPON. You will push WARHEAD MATING to the THRESHOLD OF ACCEPTABILITY"), and we learn how thoroughly war and the refugee's flight permeated the consciousness. VERDICT Highly recommended.

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt



By Solmaz Sharif

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2016 Solmaz Sharif
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-940-9



It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me. Exquisite.

Whereas Well, if I were from your culture, living in this country, said the man outside the 2004 Republican National Convention, I would put up with that for this country;

Whereas I felt the need to clarify: You would put up with TORTURE, you mean and he proclaimed: Yes;

Whereas what is your life;

Whereas years after they LOOK down from their jets and declare my mother's Abadan block PROBABLY DESTROYED, we walked by the villas, the faces of buildings torn off into dioramas, and recorded it on a handheld camcorder;

Whereas it could take as long as 16 seconds between the trigger pulled in Las Vegas and the Hellfire missile landing in Mazar-e-Sharif, after which they will ask Did we hit a child? No. A dog. they will answer themselves;

Whereas the federal judge at the sentencing hearing said I want to make sure I pronounce the defendant's name correctly;

Whereas this lover would pronounce my name and call me Exquisite and lay the floor lamp across the floor, softening even the light;

Whereas the lover made my heat rise, rise so that if heat sensors were trained on me, they could read my THERMAL SHADOW through the roof and through the wardrobe;

Whereas you know we ran into like groups like mass executions. w/ hands tied behind their backs. and everybody shot in the head side by side. its not like seeing a dead body walking to the grocery store here. its not like that. its iraq you know its iraq. its kinda like acceptable to see that there and not — it was kinda like seeing a dead dog or a dead cat lying —;

Whereas I thought if he would LOOK at my exquisite face or my father's, he would reconsider;

Whereas You mean I should be disappeared because of my family name? and he answered Yes. That's exactly what I mean, adding that his wife helped draft the PATRIOT Act;

Whereas the federal judge wanted to be sure he was pronouncing the defendant's name correctly and said he had read all the exhibits, which included the letter I wrote to cast the defendant in a loving light;

Whereas today we celebrate things like his transfer to a detention center closer to home;

Whereas his son has moved across the country;

Whereas I made nothing happen;

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a THERMAL SHADOW, it appears so little, and then vanishes from the screen;

Whereas I cannot control my own heat and it can take as long as 16 seconds between the trigger, the Hellfire missile, and A dog. they will answer themselves;

Whereas A dog. they will say: Now, therefore,

Let it matter what we call a thing.

Let it be the exquisite face for at least 16 seconds.

Let me LOOK at you.

Let me LOOK at you in a light that takes years to get here.


During the war, we felt the silence in the policy of the governments of English-speaking countries. That policy was to win the war first, and work out the meanings afterward. The result was, of course, that the meanings were lost.


    BATTLEFIELD ILLUMINATION on fire     a body running

    PINPOINT TARGET ONE one lit desk lamp
    and a nightgown walking past the window

    LAY down
    to sleep the
    to rest last night
    to waste before
    across a stretcher
    across a shoulder
    over a leg
    beneath an arm
    in a shroud
    in a crib
    on top of a car
    chained to a bumper
    beneath a bridge
    in town square
    in the fountain
    in the Tigris
    under water boiled from smart bombs
    in a cellar
    in backseat counting streetlamps strobling overhead
    under bomblets
    under tendrils of phosphorus
    in a burnt silhouette
    on a cot
    still holding your breath
    beneath dining table
    beneath five stories
    in a hole

    CONTAMINATED REMAINS wash hands before getting in bed
    eave interrogation room before answering cell
    each your mouth to say
    TL[honey when you enter the kitchen

    DAMAGE AREA does not include night sweats
    or retching at the smell of barbeque

    DEAD SPACE fridges full
    after the explosion the hospital
    places body parts
    out back where crowds
    attempt to identify those
    who do not answer their calls
    by an eyeball
    a sleeve of a favorite shirt
    a stopped wristwatch

    DESTRUCTION RADIUS limited to blast site
    and not the brother abroad
    who answers his phone
    then falls against the counter
    or punches a cabinet door

Safe House

SANCTUARY where we don't have to

SANITIZE hands or words or knives, don't have to use a

SCALE each morning, worried we take up too much space. I

SCAN my memory of baba talking on

SCREEN answering a question (how are you?) I would ask and ask from behind the camera, his face changing with each repetition as he tried to watch the football game. He doesn't know this is the beginning of my

SCRIBING life: repetition and change. A human face at the seaport and a home growing smaller. Let's

SEARCH my father's profile: moustache black and holding back a

SECRET he still hasn't told me,

SECTION of the couch that's fallen a bit from his repeated weight,

SECTOR of the government designed to keep him from flying. He kept our house

SECURE except from the little bugs that come with dried herbs from Iran. He gives

SECURITY officers a reason to get of their chairs. My father is not afraid of


SEIZE a wild pigeon of a Santa Monica street or watch

SEIZURES unfold in his sister's bedroom — the FBI storming through. He said use wood sticks to hold up your protest signs then use them in

SELF-DEFENSE when the horses come, his eyes

SENSITIVE when he passes advice to me, like I'm his

SEQUEL, like we're all a

SERIAL caught on Iranian satellite TV. When you tell someone of, he calls it

SERVICING. When I stand on his feet, I call it

SHADOWING. He naps in the afternoon and wakes with

SHEETLINES on his face, his hair upright, the sound of

SHELLS (SPECIFY) — the sound of mussel shells on the lip of the Bosphorus crunching beneath his feet. He's given me


SHIELDING, shown it's better to travel away from the

SHOAL. Let them follow you he says from somewhere in Los Angeles waiting for me. If he feels a

SHORT FALL he doesn't tell me about it.

Deception Story

Friends describe my DISPOSITION

as stoic. Like a dead fish, an ex said. DISTANCE

is a funny drug and used to make me a DISTRESSED PERSON,

one who cried in bedrooms and airports. Once I bawled so hard at the border, even the man with the stamps and holster said Don't cry. You'll be home soon. My DISTRIBUTION

over the globe debated and set to quota. A nation can only handle so many of me. DITCHING

class, I break into my friend's dad's mansion and swim in the Beverly Hills pool in a borrowed T-shirt. A brief DIVERSION.

My body breaking the chlorinated surface makes it, momentarily, my house, my DIVISION

of driveway gate and alarm codes, my dress-rehearsed DOCTRINE

of pool boys and ping-pong and water delivered on the backs of sequined Sparkletts trucks. Over here, DOLLY,

an agent will call out, then pat the hair at your hot black DOME.

After explaining what she will touch, backs of the hands at the breasts and buttocks, the hand goes inside my waistband and my heart goes DORMANT.

A dead fish. The last female assist I decided to hit on. My life in the American Dream is a DOWNGRADE,

a mere DRAFT

of home. Correction: it satisfies as DRAG.

It is, snarling, what I carve of it alone.

Special Events For Homeland Security

Leave your DOLLY at home — this is no INNOCENT PASSAGE. Ladies, bring your KILL BOX. Boys, your HUNG WEAPON. You will push WARHEAD MATING to the THRESHOLD of ACCEPTABILITY. Whether you're PASSIVE or on the HUNTER TRACK, there's a room for you. An exclusive MAN SPACE with over two-dozen HEIGHT HOLES and bitches in READY POSITION. Eat until you damn near CANNIBALIZE. There's nothing you CANNOT OBSERVE. We ask you follow our TWO-PERSON RULE in restricted areas. Otherwise, get your SIMULTANEOUS ENGAGEMENT on. Please come with a safe PASSWORD and a NICKNAME, we'll provide PENETRATION AIDS and RESTRAINTS. Guaranteed to make your SPREADER BAR SWELL.

      Dear Intelligence Journal,

        Lovely dinner party. Darling CASUALTIES and lean
    sirloin DAMAGE of the COLLATERAL sort.
    to the DESIRED INTERNAL AUDIENCE, reaching
        a lengthy and essential PLANNING PHASE,
    down to our party's seating chart where I perfectly
    placed gentlemen to avoid a HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT ...
        showed great CONSTRAINT ... CIVIL AFFAIRS.
    A real CIVIL CENSORSHIP. Even when he dropped that MEGATON
    WEAPON on me, coyly I promised:
    wait until you taste the COUP DE MAIN!
        He stayed! To think, nights ago I wished
    DISENGAGEMENT. Following tonight, to the T,
    I did as mother suggested: IDENTIFICATION, FRIEND OR FOE.
    Turned out FRIEND ...
        (If you have found this, please stop reading now.)
    We were FRIENDLY beneath the gazebo's LATTICE ... a LOW VISIBILITY
    OPERATION, which is what my OVER-THE-HORIZON
    RADAR was telling me. The INTERPRETABILITY of ...
    I know. I promise more later. But, still
    a truly really important POINT OF NO RETURN ...
        Stepped out to ASSESS this AREA
    OF INFLUENCE, to admire together the ARCHITECTURE,
        share a DESIRED APPRECIATION of our
    LAND that (fingers crossed!) we will build together ...


    My DUMMY, my DUMP,
    where are you now?
    Too LATE to remember
    what I meant to write.
    In the fifties,
    people carried cards
    with conversation topics
    appropriate between fallout shelters
    and Whites Only signs.
    I steer through hills of windmills
    and an AIRFIELD of BOMBERS,
    pigeon nests gathering
    in the quiet engines.

    * * *

    On YouTube, Blackwater
    agents MOP UP bad guys
    from a Najaf roof
    like they're staving off
    zombies. "Fucking niggers"
    one says. He reloads
    as some let their barrels cool
    against the ledge.
    He cried when he saw
    the video. His boys claim
    he's not a racist. Love,
    I've started to say such
    senseless things: "I know
    where he is coming from"
    and "I'm just doing my job."

    * * *

    ANTITERRORISM experts are talking
    about us again. Some news anchor
    cussing during commercials.
    I saw your wanted ad at the subway station.
    I saw a young Taliban
    but couldn't see past his beauty
    brows of an ancient RELIEF, to the tank
    he was riding on.

    * * *

    If you wish a picture:
    the map in my dashboard
    is outdated and missing
    two states, my left arm browned
    from hanging out the car window,
    my right at noon, fingers drumming,
    a flat highway cutting through
    fields and fields and fields and
    FIRES moving down the hills.

    Force Visibility

    Everywhere we went, I went
    in pigtails
    no one could see —

    ribbon curled
    by a scissor's sharp edge,
    the bumping our cars

    undertook when hitting
    those strips
    along the interstate

    meant to shake us
    awake. Everywhere we went
    horses bucking

    their riders off,
    holstered pistols
    or two Frenchies

    dancing in black and white
    in a torn-apart
    living room,

    on the big screen
    our polite cow faces
    lit softly

    by New Wave Cinema
    I will never
    get into. The soft whir

    What is fascism?
    A student asked me

    and can you believe
    I couldn't remember
    the definition?

    The sonnet,
    I said.
    I could've said this:

    our sanctioned twoness.
    My COVERT pigtails.
    Driving to the cinema

    you were yelling
    This is not
you corrected

    in the car, a tiny
    amphitheater. I will
    resolve this
I thought

    and through that
    RESOLUTION, I will be
    a stronger compatriot.

    This is fascism.
    Dinner party
    by dinner party

    waltz by waltz,
    weddings ringed
    by admirers, by old

    couples who will rise
    to touch each other

    you were yelling
    and beside us, briefly

    a sheriff's retrofitted bus.
    Full or empty
    was impossible to see.


1. In detection by radar, the separation of one solid return into a number of individual returns which correspond to the various objects or structure groupings. This separation is contingent upon a number of factors including range, beam width, gain setting, object size and distance between objects.

    [I like to think years apart, in the]

    distance between objects
    contingent on a number of factors

    [before the moment I first saw you,
    a scaffolding a city walks beneath,
    I like to think
    we walked into Masjid-e Imam
    and sent our voices up into its mosaic domes
    and heard them clap back to us in seven
    divine echoes, that our voices became
    a PERMANENT ECHO, that we called
    our names up into a dome to hear]

    the separation of one solid return
    [as our names returned, names
    not even a blip on their]



    which correspond

    [to our obsessions, mine
    which means flower that never dies
    and yours for an archer
    who launched his arrow
    and its impossible]


    [which mapped the ends of the Persian Empire]

2. In imagery interpretation, the result of magnification or enlargement which causes the imaged item to lose its identity and the resultant presentation to become a random series of tonal impressions. Also called split- up.

    [I loved you at lunch]

    the result of magnification

    [when the coffee kicked in and you
    cut carrots into coins]

    a random series

    [for our salad, the satisfying, slow knocking
    of the dull knife
    against the cutting board
    while I pretended to read
    while I worshipped you
    from the sofa, an]

    enlargement which causes

    [a slow pleasure
    it was at least slow
    how you moved, PATIENT and inefficient,
    unemployable and something
    older, a shopkeeper on a stool.
    I like to think, years apart,]


    [we walked into the bazaar and you bought
    a pocket watch, that we walked
    into Masjid-e Imam and looked
    up into its mosaic domes]

    a series of tonal impressions

    [we sent our voice
    up into to hear it return, hear it]

    lose its identity

    [in seven echoes — was it? — the knock
    of your knife against the splintered
    board. Can you hurry
I'd say
    the way you, slow,
    it was pleasure, turned me over
    and started at the shoulders
    then started at the heels,
    your hands moving up, so]

    the resultant presentation

    [was I saw all

    I would have to leave —
    I don't want to die
    I won't be ready

    and you tried to soothe,
    said you'd die first
    as an ACT OF MERCY, you
    who hear a knock
    and rise slow to answer, while I,
    I wonder is this before
    their GUNS come, the slow knock
    of your knife I left
    to hurry the leaving]


    [I know I am hurrying toward what
    I didn't want,
    I know what it's]

    Also called

    Ground Visibility

    this mangy plot where

    by now
    only mothers still come,

    only mothers guard the nameless dead

    * * *

    and then sparingly

    * * *

    these graves: the Place of the Damned

    the prison: History's Dumping Ground

    * * *

    Peepholes burnt through the metal doors
    of their solitary cells,

    * * *

    just large enough
    for three fingers to curl out
    for a lemon to pass through
    for an ear to be held against
    for one eye then the other
    to regard the hallway
    to regard the cell and inmate

    * * *

    peepholes without a lens

    so when the GUARD comes to inspect me,
    I inspect him.
    Touch me, you said.

    * * *

    And through that opening

    I did.

    Desired Appreciation

    Until now, now that I've reached my thirties:
    All my Muse's poetry has been harmless:
    American and diplomatic: a learned helplessness
    Is what psychologists call it: my docile, desired state.
    I've been largely well-behaved and gracious.
    I've learned the doctors learned of learned helplessness
    By shocking dogs. Eventually, we things give up.
    Am I grateful to be here? Someone eventually asks
    If I love this country. In between the helplessness,
    The agents, the nation must administer
    A bit of hope: must meet basic dietary needs:
    Ensure by tube by nose, by throat, by other
    Orifice. Must fistbump a janitor. Must muss up
    Some kid's hair and let him loose
    Around the Oval Office. click click could be cameras
    Or the teeth of handcuffs closing to fix
    The arms overhead. There must be a doctor on hand
    To ensure the shoulders do not dislocate
    And there must be Prince's "Raspberry Beret."
    click click could be Morse code tapped out
    Against a coffin wall to the neighboring coffin.
    Outside my window, the snow lights cobalt
    For a bit at dusk and I'm surprised
    Every second of it. I had never seen the country
    Like this. Somehow I can't say yes. This is a beautiful country.
    I have not cast my eyes over it before, that is,
    In this direction,
is how John Brown put it
    When he looked out from the scaffold.
    I feel like I must muzzle myself,
    I told my psychiatrist.

        "So you feel dangerous?" she said.
        "So you feel like a threat?"
        Why was I so surprised to hear it?


Excerpted from Look by Solmaz Sharif. Copyright © 2016 Solmaz Sharif. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Solmaz Sharif has published poetry in The New Republic and Poetry, and has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.

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