Poetry Issue #35

After the Antidepressants Stopped Working

By Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad

There is a phrase we use in Farsi

in despair or desperation:

joonam beh labam reseedeh, or

my life has reached my lips,

and how I wished it were true…
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*Image: “Synapse Tree” by John Timothy Robinson, 2012, paper 8.5×11 and image 7×9 with the medium as monotype (reductive technique)


Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad

Featured Poet



After the Antidepressants Stopped Working


There is a phrase we use in Farsi
in despair or desperation:
joonam beh labam reseedeh, or
my life has reached my lips,
and how I wished it were true
in those moments I tried to glue
the unlicked popsicle sticks
of a heart into some kind of shape,
when I stopped speaking
and prayer was the first ringing
gagged by the squeezing hands
of incomplete hopelessness;
I wanted my life, my whole life
to ascend the filament rungs of my throat,
and pool in my mouth at the mercy
of a relentless tongue,
a muscle finally in control,
and when it was time,
to push my being across my teeth,
I would get on all fours
like a heaving cat and hurl,
choke and spit until what was left of me
on the porous carpet,
the wet mass of everything
I once thought to be nutritious



Everything about Fireflies Has Already Been Said


Because he would not pray, I prayed extra
to make up the difference, for everything
like the grape leaves I rolled for him around pressed rice
to taste homemade and not store-bought,
that the cliffs along the strait would lean toward his tired body
chiseled and pocked for his fingers to grip,
that the callouses formed as a result of this
would recede smooth if anyone were to touch them,
and of course I prayed long for each plane he boarded,
to steady the carrier along a course not bidden with tragedy,
and for the garden bench he had trusted to rest himself,
the tattered one we sit upon late June evening when the fireflies
return with their power-saving bulbs built-in,
the ones I catch him watching in the way we all do,
that no amount of staring at their bodies can wholly convince us
that this is real, that a living thing flying carries the flicker of a candle,
like the darkened sky had dropped stars to eye level and given them wings;
and I did not want to say anything because everything about fireflies
has already been said, but when he would not break his silent gaze, I said
you know in some species, the female is flightless,
can you imagine the girl looking around for a hovering mate,
a signal, a literal flash of light to fall in love with,
and he exhaled through his nose in soft amusement,
and I prayed for the air he split over and over again with the force
of his arm in sickle-shape movement, until he caught one
in a loosely-closed fist, which he slowly undid to reveal
the captured bug unharmed, that he then set on concrete,
crouched with it, and in the few seconds before it flew away,
he looked left and right in the nearby shrub
like a hopeful wingman, waiting; I had thought that one’s lips
must move for a prayer to be offered



This Was for Tiphys


It’s a pyramid knot or a conical bump, an arc jutting,
not given special attention when water falls over me;

I mean what’s behind oily skin, in no one’s direct view,
not even my own, not even when I turn my chin eastward

at a mirror, a fleshy bow suspended and pierced three times
kind of covers it. But there it is, at the base of my skull,

a process, a rough surface with a connection to muscles of neck,
with openings to blood vessels, communicates through

hearing tube with middle cavity like a landline telephone;
it’s the thick basket behind the lobe, this bone behind the ear

called mastoid, Greek for breast, which makes sense
now as you stretch across the table and reach

for a sensitive zone exposed; I mean how you collect a crowd
of my hair, push it away from my face, fasten the bouquet

into that space, graze the bone’s case as you do this;
salting my body with a shock that provokes each pore to rise

to its tip; it’s actually less bone and more sponge, the mastoid,
perforated like honeycomb, like the inside of a hallowed dome,

a porous prominence, which is such a relief because
when you touch me again and lose your fingers in loose strands

that curtain my cheekbone, my lungs freeze, pause
with a mouthful of breath trapped; but there, behind my ear,

a pod of air cells beneath your continuous tuck and stroke
stimulated—at least I know somewhere oxygen is still circulating.



Baby Timpani


My eyes closed—I know of you: a thin flap of skin stretched tight
around sheer coil vibrates, pulsates as waves sway

through curved canal,

pressure like percussion strikes, inside sound collides
with each layer, slender ring fine and pint sized

fibrous and flexible flutters
back and forth, funnels each ripple to small bones,

then inward to oval window, converts these unseen tides
to chiming notes and my brain suddenly goes oh

Little device who amplifies: I know another vessel
made of symphonic skin,

pulled across muscle dark and light and striped,
filaments thick and thin,

an atlas of interlocking cells routed and spun,
draped around a contraption contracting

that also streams a song,

opens and closes its valves to play this number,
pumps some blood in between lub and dub to rush the aria,

(though the harmony, really, is in the wonder
of who sits behind this orchestra)

So baby timpani, don’t read this to be an appeal ungracious,
it is just that tonight, my eyes closed—my head pressed against his chest,

I ask that you un-flex and surrender yourself, eardrum, bury your hum
and let his heart be the only instrument strung

Let his heartbeat be the only beat made between Whomever’s pounding palms



While Watching the Protestors Saturday Morning


In Farsi, we do not say I have your back,
we say I have your air.
I have the runway gust squeezing between
craft and jet bridge as they board.
I have the puff of the kiss pressed onto the steel door
latched, blocking for now the birth-home world.
I have the cotton whiff of a shawl crossing the neck
as air raid drills and mothers are left.
I have the draft of the circle fan above the seat
blowing away a prayer hum clumsy on scared lips.
I have the molecules leaping between fingers
flipping back and forth a customs form.
I have the loud gasp upon landing
on unnamed life beginning for the first time.
I have the breeze of automatic doors opening
to a pair of suitcases not waiting
to be picked up by anyone but their owners.
More than thirty years later
from my apartment in Queens,
I have the wind of arrival,
heard three, four times every hour
from JFK Airport.
I have the sigh my parents released
when they flew here all those years ago,
promptly relabeled foreigner from passenger.
If you say I have your back,
you leave exposed their ribs,
all that calcium pushing out of skin,
all those teeth unprotected,
you leave unshielded the front.
If you say I have your back,
who will have their hurt bursting from heart.
When the passengers land Saturday morning,
relabeled detained reloaded with arteries
un-sewn and homes unfilled back to the plane,
wings deporting cleave the sky on takeoff.
That air, I have that air too,
rushing into my lungs,
like the sky, also suffocating.

By Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad

Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad was born and raised in New York. Her poetry has appeared in The Missing Slate, Passages North, HEArt Journal Online, Pinch Journal, and is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly. She is the poetry editor for Noble / Gas Qtrly, and a Best of the Net, Pushcart Prize, and Best New Poets nominee. She currently lives in New York where she practices matrimonial law.