Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Rooja Mohassessy





Before and After the Iranian Revolution

In the early eighties the shipment 
was denied entry onto our land. 
The dildos likely still buoy bloated 
on the gray sea, greasy with the surplus 
of embargoed oil, choking the long-inflamed 
passage through the strait neck of Hormuz
like a midnight belch. They turned away 
many goods and bright colors, our men, 
barely managing, fumbling to keep
our confounding thighs, our unruly hair 
out of view, and rule the country 
with the other fist, without foreign 
aid, trade, or hair spray.

The fifties and sixties ushered in the Tango, 
Twist arrived in cassette tapes packed 
with overlap miniskirts. In the late seventies, 
after the revolution, our Sony players still sucked 
the Hollywood VHS in place, coached us
in the new Occidental moves, we clapped 
to each other’s jig, our belly-dancing hips 
swinging easy in the warmth of kerosene heaters. 

Late eighties though, it was then that 
the definition of Dirty Dancing grew broad 
to embrace our lashes, lips and other indecencies. 
We were urged to keep still, not fiddle 
with our faces. It was then that stoning came 
back in vogue. Most of us missed out entirely 
on Swayze’s steps and those who played 
the clandestine soundtrack past earshot
got ninety-nine lashes, one for every name 
of God. Virgins took it the hardest, a Coca Cola 
bottle inserted in the rectum and a torn vagina 
sealed their outcast state— flapping that wide 
they couldn’t leave their cells, their splayed souls 
would never fit through Heaven’s narrow gate, 
nor contain its pleasures.

Still today we’re not to be trusted 
with a casual glance, a dildo, 
though we can’t help 
but sit with our hair by the window,
and enjoy the Persian rose, 
the scent wafting in,
                                out and in,



Mrs. Farahmand and Mrs. Henderson Share Drinks on the Eve of War

The moment you enter I stretch across 
my moist lips a taut and glossy smile, 
transparent as Saran Wrap, preserving us 
at a good arm’s length where you lean
into my island, your unbuttoned 
blouse breathing, your favorite 
perfume wafting over.

I realize it’s mere temporary mercy, 
yet it saves us, believe me, my strained 
charade, from spoiling the perfectly blameless 
afternoon, our cultural incompetence betraying us both
with such topics as the Red Sox, Axl Rose
and how well he has aged, the toughness of sanctions 

on Iran, which member of the female 
body is left bare in the Qur’an and whatever 
happened to my mother and her tongue.
A long list of taboo topics each petering 
out at the embarrassed dead-end, 
though a small amount of ill-at-ease 
we can both tolerate like a low-grade fever.
From the corner graciously beams 
my professional Cuisinart with the continuous feed head, 
my gambit for reviving the dead air. The kitchen, 
too, I’ve aired, sumac subdued, cardamom  
and clove, saffron, sealed in vials lest they seep 

and clash with our summer menu of baby 
kale and nasturtium, thin sole 
fillets propped up on bouncy beds of greens.
Yet a few cocktails in, we predictably 
thaw in our Riviera high chairs, I lean 
into the counter and confess how long 
it’s been since sex, you advise how best 
to ease into the full dosage of black cohosh 
now that menopause has hit.
Then after a boozy tiramisu we sop up 
with a shared spoon, I usher you, Sea Breeze in hand, 

onto the twilit patio, where a phalanx of ghosts, 
conjured from 500 BC, streaks crimson 
the California sky—
the Athenian dead, 
Darius the Great, 
Alexander, Persian warriors, their armors cast aside, stand in line 
with those who loved us, 
my uncles who died in exile,
their wives alone in hospice, your dead, too, 
whoever they be, stand should to shoulder with mine,
all on the same defeated side.

Glosses worn off, our smiles almost clear 
the air now of centuries of mistrust. We’ve reassured the afternoon 
with nods of understanding, dreamt each other 
harmless, consoled with gentle dabs of moisturized touches, 
and here we sit in the glow of the tired sun, silently sipping 
our final drinks. As our countries brace for war my border 
of white roses sways before us like a flag of truce, your gold 
highlights toy with the last light, my bone-
white roots call for a touch up and I think 
to myself, look how well we managed 
against such heavy odds and shed no blood.



The Italian Civil State Office and the Iranian Embassy Deny Your Request for Cremation
For Amoo

For ten years now I have found 
                                                  comfort in the freshness of the one droplet on your corpse,
clinging like morning dew
                                           to your right cheek, refusing to roll. A tear
would have—that much is certain. The mortician,
a public servant of Rome, left the room 
with his tired eyes, your shirt and tie 
                                                            neatly stacked,
and the pressed suit. Your socks and briefs, I handed 
to him on his return. On the last trip he took the bouquet 
                                                                                          from my hand, and your shoes. I ask
myself, the cut roses, were they not crisp
the next morning? They lay stiffly on the bed =
of baby’s breath when I returned 
the next morning. Stems caught 
                                                  in your cuffs, they reached
                                                  with clean white faces for your chin. I saw
well enough, I spotted the single droplet 
                                                                 on your cheek, you see, through the grease
                                                                 of fingerprints at eye level. The sweaty
plexiglass pane stretched uninterrupted 
from cold stony floor 
to ceiling. My love, you were 
                                                seamlessly sealed
away for good. Yes, 
all is good, I tell myself, at museums too, a thermostat 
regulates the ambient temperature. I tell myself, 
                                                                              public morgues are kept perpetually chilled,
                                                                              cold and clean as holy mountains. And the high-
                                                                              pressured hose—
no doubt he must have 
                                    circled you clockwise
or not, no matter, three times 
to be sure, mercy raining 
                                        down hard, long
enough to pool about the drain. I swear, 
                                                                 the dewdrop on your face
my witness. Then the spray of baby’s breath, the roses 
may rest easy. Surely, he must have
rolled you onto your side, 
on the stainless-steel 
                                 trolley, an assistant,
likely a lean teenage lad had wielded 
the unruly hose. 
                          Did the stream follow the gnarled,
                          sinuous path through the ravine years of care had cut into
the blades of your back? I could have 
assured him
                    they were whittled
down in love. I could have shown him where 
                                                                         to linger, let the water
linger over varicosed calves, 
                                               over a gentle soul.


Does his girlfriend now wear 
the knotted silver ring you never  
                                                     once pulled off that baby finger?
In ten days, you arrived at San Francisco 
Airport, barely embalmed, bloated, 
                                                         foaming, putrid in the coffin. My love, I signed
what papers they put before me.
The next morning a breeze 
                                            swept in across the bar. I watched it lean
                                            the white sails toward starboard and lift your heavy ashes
into the air. By Angel Island I scattered after you
my armful of red 
                           roses into blue.



Author photo courtesy of author

Rooja Mohassessy is an Iranian-born poet. She is a 2022 MacDowell Fellow and a student of the Pacific University MFA program in Oregon. Her debut collection, When Your Sky Runs Into Mine, was the winner of the 22nd Annual Elixir Poetry Prize and will be released by Elixir Press in 2023. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Poet Lore, RHINO Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, CALYX Journal, Ninth Letter, Cream City Review, The Adroit Journal, New Letters, The Florida Review, and elsewhere. More from this author →