First published in The Ekphrastic Review in October of 2018, Iranian-born poet Rooja Mohassessy presents readers a work of luscious language, devotion, wonder, faith, and also disillusionment. What begins as a child exploring the beautiful language of the Qur’an in post-revolution Iran is transformed, by the end, into the tragic truths awaiting her in the near future. Intoxicated by Verses is a truly beautiful work of poetry and reality. Rooja explained to The Dewdrop that in Muslim theology, the Qur’an must always be recited in Arabic, not in translation.
Intoxicated by Verses
Even the Farsi translation, the barely legible
print beneath each calligraphed line calls
for translation. How scholarly she is at ten,
squatting cross-legged, hunched over
the book of spells she spreads daily on her knees.
It is forbidden to touch the verses.
With the full length of her arm she turns
the page from one corner of the magic world
to another, careful not to scare the sacred
and the gilded accents twinkling in midair,
little blades hovering over the cursive script.
It is forbidden to recite in a foreign tongue.
She loves the Arab tongue of God, she loves her lips
sliced with surahs, consonants rammed
to the back of the throat, she draws
deep to sustain the vowels. Her incantations soar,
her white chador a floating tent sown
sunny with daisies beaming with childhood.
She pauses to drink at the turquoise banks, the hand-painted
margins of the page hem her faith and brim
with embossed blossoms, then dervishlike, rocking
with each sibylline verse rising from her pliant
throat, she is the reverberating masjid dome, poised
over her paisley janamaz, birds of praise come nesting,
they come cooing, darting out and into her chador.
Each surah the utterly incomprehensible
spell she incants from her proud minaret, she cups her hands
in invitation for God to join, dance
with her on the naked waters of her childhood.
Very soon, it will be forbidden for girls to dance.
Rooja Mohassessy is an Iranian-born poet and educator living in Northern California. Her poems and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Poet Lore, RHINO Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, CALYX Journal, Ninth Letter, The Adroit Journal, Bare Life Review, Potomac Review, The Florida Review, New Letters, InterlitQ, and elsewhere. She is also included in California Fire and Water: An Anthology of Poems. Rooja is a 2021 recipient of the MacDowell Fellowship and a student at the MFA program of Pacific University, Oregon. She reads for the journal Prairie Schooner.