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 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"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977443
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 07/05/2016
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 191,188
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About 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.

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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Look 3


Battlefield Illumination 9

Pinpoint Target 10

Lay 11

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

Break-Up 24

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

Expellee 40

Mess Hall 41

Theater 42

Soldier, Home Early, Surprises His Wife in Chick-fil-A 43

Vulnerability Study 44

Reaching Guantánamo 45


Perception Management 55

Personal Effects 56


Drone 89

Notes 95

Acknowledgments 97

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