Poem of the Week | December 27, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Look This Way” by Darius Atefat-Peckham.

Darius Atefat-Peckham is an Iranian-American poet and essayist. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Poem-a-Day, The Georgia Review, Rattle, Shenandoah, The Journal, and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbook How Many Love Poems (Seven Kitchens Press). In 2018, Atefat-Peckham was selected by the Library of Congress as a National Student Poet. His work has appeared in the anthology My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora (University of Texas Press). Atefat-Peckham lives in Huntington, West Virginia and currently studies English and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard.


Look This Way

She’s terrified of the action,
the firing. Dad, a drill sergeant, rocketing
a stick into the lake like a tiny missile, a missive
our golden retriever lugs to us in her gentle
maw, time and again lingering, as if to say
she doesn’t understand why we keep sending it back.
Dad, exclaiming You’re a Golden Retriever—
And it’s true. I am American as much as I don’t
wish to be. Maybe its another person’s life,
another person’s father. Or maybe I’m just lonely
and surrounded. Loneliness, a failure
of the imagination. Everything that hurts
a failure of memory. I want to
misremember. The way I loved feeling my hand
in the warmth of a dog’s mouth, tracing its huge teeth
that wouldn’t bite or hold. Holding its head still to let me
reside there. Opening the mouth to say what I think
my Everyone wants to hear. Sometimes,
when I read Persian, it looks like the other side
of English bled through the page. I look that way:
specular, peering in—through—the water.
Afraid of drowning. Afraid of surviving
even more. Confused about what she should
take, what she should leave behind. Dad saying I don’t feel
like swimming out to save her.
Poised to dive in. To
save her. A bit of bright sun retching the sky
from its lungs, setting it carefully in the dirt
like something to heal.


Author’s Note

In “Look This Way,” I hoped to rupture the ‘identity’ I’ve constructed for the speaker of my poems. I recognize I’ve somewhat receded into a version of myself when I write, the parts I’m most comfortable with and that I like the most, and I’m ought to neglect the other, more troubled aspects. Or rather, that I divide myself into many identities, and choose which of these to care for. That confusion over what to “save” of oneself is where this piece began. The overwhelming momentum and lingering slowness of that choice, as we make art, as we make ourselves. In naming this, I hope to render my full being more vulnerably. It goes without saying that the star of this poem, however, is my golden retriever, Ivy, whose base instinct for sweetness and care—whose desire for reciprocal sweetness and care—is something I delight in most days, is something I learn from and fear and believe in.