An Interview with Persis Karim, Poet/Professor at San Jose State University by San José based writer, Chad Hall, 4/29/15, conducted for CONTENT Magazine. read the full interview
I love the wind–
its breath in my hair,
its fingers on my back,
the sound of it in trees
or at the edge of the sea.
I love the wind more
than anything I cannot see.
Thanks to Daniel Simon, Managing Editor of World Literature Today for sending me this review!
What an honor to have someone draw attention to the magazine World Literature Today--a magazine I too admire and respect for its attention to international literature, global authors, and media such as film. The issue that I edited in March/April 2015 was given a very positive review (I rarely see reviews of magazines), and I cite it here, because I do want to acknowledge, like the author of this review, that writers from Iran and those living outside of Iran, are doing important work in bridging the information (and distortion) gap about Iran. Here is the review here: http://www.thereviewreview.net/reviews/international-lit-mag-focuses-dissidents-exiles-and-
ContentMagazineInterview -April 2015
The strong wind pushes and whips
a dragonfly far from water
I nearly step on its glassy wings
but the light of its shimmer catches my eye
I lift and hold its delicateness
in the palm of my aging hand
the black veins of its travels
the circuitry of its flight
are transparent in each flutter
I set it in a tree to recover
hoping the camouflage of its invisibility
will save it from another injury
so that it take off and alight again
and find its way back to the mirror
of itself on the shore. (persis karim)
At 21, you might have taken the world
into the folds of your arms, held it softly
like a baby, or flexed your muscles
and hurled it into space, like the fire
of your bright-burning. No one knew
what the stars held for you, no one
could have held you back in the brilliance
of your life. You were a boy, a man becoming,
taken from us far too soon,
in the days and months when love
enfolded you, when forgiveness
rested in the back of your throat,
your soul entered that other realm.
These days, we live through long days
of absence, days that lead us
to months, and now, five years
of them, filled with
wondering who you might be . . .
how you’d come through the front door,
how you’d tell me about your day, maybe
even debate about things
we both thought important.
How you’d advise your brother
or rub your father’s shoulders,
or share some secret
of your feelings, or hold back
and wait for an opening
between us. These days the wondering
about who you might
be, how you might answer
the call of your life leaves me
with more questions
and the unhealing bruise
of not knowing.
with immense love, Persis
Thank you Mr. Spock. Thank you Leonard Nimoy. You are one and the same to me, really. I will miss your voice and serious demeanor, your depth of vision as a man and an actor, but more so, as someone who straddled the centuries, and helped me straddle my own sense of time and place. I guess I feel sentimental about the Star Trek series because for people of my generation (born in the early sixties and raised in the seventies), that show took risks and embodied the change that loomed on the horizon of American culture and society. Seeing a black woman communications officer, Lieutenant Uhura, seeing the Japanese Sulu, even hearing the voice of a female computer, helped me see that my life would be different than my parents, but especially my mother’s. More than all the risky roles Gene Roddenberry helped to realize in the original series, it was Mr. Spock with whom I felt the deepest connection and the most identification. Yes, he was a man, and of course, I was drawn to his mysteriousness, his intellectual prowess, his good looks, and his eagerness not to cave in to human emotion (although I still hold my emotions dear, and I might even be accused of being possessing “female irrationality”), and yes, I always had a crush on him when other girls and women went for Kirk. Never, ever did I feel anything for Kirk. Beyond being a womanizer and desperate for female attention, he struck me as arrogant and cocky. Spock on the other hand, evoked a kind of quiet dignity, a desire to be in the world, but also a recognition that he did not fully belong. I identified with him, even as a young girl.
It was only much later in my life, when I actively sought to understand my immigrant parents, my immigrant father, born in France, raised in Iran, and immigrated to the US, that I began to see something of Spock in my dad too. He had that same commanding intellect, that same desire for logic, but also the same love of questions. But Spock did remind me of myself. I really tried to grasp what a half-Vulcan, half-human person might be struggling with; his cultural angst, his sense of loyalty, his anxiety about belonging to both and neither culture and having to prove himself to the Federation. I could not help seeing traces of my own life in his. I too was the product of two cultures, two parents who migrated from elsewhere who were raising their children in a third culture. Back then, there as NO vocabulary or appreciation for bicultural and biracial identity. These terms did not yet exist in my childhood. We were still consider mongrels, freaks, and half-breeds (in the negative sense) and identifying with either nationality seemed a perilous kind of social ostracization to bring on oneself. Seeing Mr. Spock on the black and white screen of our TV as a girl of 9 or 10, (who knows if it was reruns or the real thing or both?), I began to entertain the possibility that what I was, like Spock, was unique and different, and maybe might one day even be a badge of honor.
I saw the power in a character like Spock. I saw his adaptability, his insight, his “do-rageh” (in Persian this means, “two-veined” –as in two bloods run through me), perspective as something that made him smart and sophisticated, and maybe even a little cutting-edge. I also saw in him the vulnerability of someone who was straddling two cultures (his earthling mother’s and his Vulcan father’s in a third world aboard the Starship Enterprise). He made the best of his alienation and his discomfort, and he found both appreciation and humor for the perspective he wielded. Yes, Mr. Spock helped me understand myself a little better and made me feel that living on the edge of cultures, living with the sense of ill-ease, of not belonging had its own vision and benefits. I often felt that while the series made him more Vulcan, inside he was much more about the process of embracing all his influences–human, Vulcan, Federation, exilic, traveler, scientist, questioner, and about negotiating and maybe even fooling people into assuming he was much more simple than he really was. I saw in Spock, and in Nimoy’s portrayal of him, someone who understood and felt compassion for the complexity of navigating more than one culture and being able to offer a kind of leadership and intellect that we still so desperately need today.
Thanks to Leonard Nimoy, and to his wonderful rich, complex Spock character, I later found some of the words to launch me on my own journey to embrace my heritage as an Iranian-French-American child. Though it was just a seed, it was a seed of representation that I will never forget. It helped me see myself somewhere in the popular culture of the United States, as someone who did not wholly have to fit in, but yet had something to offer to others. It began on the TV screen, and I hope it will live on in my son who also embodies several cultures.
Thank you Leonard Nimoy for bringing your own immigrant sensibilities to this role and for making me feel a little more half-human than not. And for offering me one of the first representations of my bicultural identity. You were a good egg and a wonderful Spock, Mr. Nimoy. Live Long and Prosper.
nest of moss and light
cups her still body in green
beneath her hums life