Jessica Abughattas

MERCI
(after the election, at the Persian market in Woodland Hills, Calif.)


An older woman holds a bundle of fenugreek to my nose
I say sorry, no Farsi and she says in my language
thank you and I say back merci.

Here among crates of rosewater, everything bursting
and spilling turmeric and cardamom —
Here I come to forget America.

The checkout girl looks into my face, deep
like she’s trying to read something from far away,
and decides to speak English.

The bag boy holds up a bag of cucumbers: is this yours?
and then says in Farsi khiar. I tell him, in Arabic we say khiar, too.
Then he, seeing my blue eyes, asks you speak Arabic?

and recites some unintelligible phrase he must have practiced.
I say merci and his face melts into a bowl of honey. I forget America.
On the walls, glamour shots of Iranian singers in sepia.

You can buy concert tickets next to where they bake the bread
they call naan, unrelated to the Indian stuff. Women with gold
streaks in their hair and European noses adorn their posters.

The word Tehran in bold roman letters.
I think of the revolution, universities closing,
Parisian ladies forced to cover all that beautiful hair.

For all the bustle, not one scarf here.
I have come to forget America. I have come for the way
people look you in the eyes when they talk.

I have come to be thankful for this
unintelligible America. I have come to be seen.
At home, before I put away Shiraz,

rosewater cakes, chai, and olives imported in their oil,
I dig my spoon into ice cream made with saffron and pistachios.
And I forget America. Now I am in Tehran,

and the only word I know in Farsi is a French word.
I have come see, come saw. We must
always say Merci when we do not understand.


AUTHOR'S NOTE:As a first-generation American, food is one of the main ways I connect to my Palestinian heritage and the immigrant communities in my city. In my neighborhood, there’s a significant Iranian community. I wanted to tell the story of the faces that greet me when I’m procuring my comforts of home, the foods our cultures share in common.


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