*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
of our language
the CAPABILITY of LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMs
You are what is referred to as
from "Personal Effects"
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Solmaz Sharif
Graywolf PressCopyright © 2016 Solmaz Sharif
All rights reserved.
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.CHAPTER 2
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.
— MURIEL RUKEYSER
BATTLEFIELD ILLUMINATION on fire a body running
PINPOINT TARGET ONE one lit desk lamp
and a nightgown walking past the window
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 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
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
SEDITION. He can
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.
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.
Extended my LETTER OF OFFER AND ACCEPTANCE
to the DESIRED INTERNAL AUDIENCE, reaching
DESIRED EFFECT and DESIRED PERCEPTION ...
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 ...
well, INITIAL ASSESSMENT, really ... just MARGINAL INFORMATION,
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,
FENDER and FIREBALL,
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.
Everywhere we went, I went
no one could see —
by a scissor's sharp edge,
the bumping our cars
undertook when hitting
along the interstate
meant to shake us
awake. Everywhere we went
their riders off,
or two Frenchies
dancing in black and white
in a torn-apart
on the big screen
our polite cow faces
by New Wave Cinema
I will never
get into. The soft whir
of CONTINUOUS STRIP IMAGERY.
What is fascism?
A student asked me
and can you believe
I couldn't remember
I could've said this:
our sanctioned twoness.
My COVERT pigtails.
Driving to the cinema
you were yelling
This is not
yelling 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.
by dinner party
waltz by waltz,
by admirers, by old
couples who will rise
to touch each other
In INTERTHEATER TRAFFIC
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]
[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
up? 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]
this mangy plot where
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
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Battlefield Illumination 9
Pinpoint Target 10
Contaminated Remains 12
Safe House 13
Deception Story 15
Special Events for Homeland Security 17
Dear Intelligence Journal 18
Free Mail 19
Force Visibility 21
Ground Visibility 28
Desired Appreciation 30
Inspiration Point, Berkeley 31
Dependers/Immediate Family 33
Stateless Person 35
Family of Scatterable Mines 38
Master Film 39
Mess Hall 41
Soldier, Home Early, Surprises His Wife in Chick-fil-A 43
Vulnerability Study 44
Reaching Guantánamo 45
Perception Management 55
Personal Effects 56