By Penny Perry
“Make up should be for your
husband only,” my mother
says in my head. In real life,
she is home in her apartment,
blowing cool air on her second
cup of tea, filling out her grocery list.
“You don’t need a clock,
you can tell time by the tasks
she performs,” my father always half-
grumbles, half praises.
From the secret pocket of my hooded
black coat, I pluck
a small tube, too big for a bullet,
too small for a gun. I daub color
on dry lips.
Half a block away, a few women,
some young, some my age, shout slogans,
wave posters of Neda.
I promised my mother I wouldn’t
come anywhere near here. I tell myself
I will stay on this street. Spoiled olives
drop like bruises from the tree
on the sidewalk.
In this ten o’clock Saturday sun
the lipstick is the tentative pink
of a small smudge in a white
Before Western books were banned
I bought Brontes and Austen from the book
store with the faded awning.
Those days, I walked to work
in heels, tilted my painted face
like a flower to the sun.
No policeman here to copy
my license plate, shatter
my windshield. I could climb
back in my car, drive by
the protestors, honk my horn,
wave two fingers in a victory V,
and speed home to my husband
and son. I pocket my lipstick, walk
toward the women,
one of them in a tight coat,
nervous streaks of eyeliner
like winding streets on her lids.
Two Basijis so young,
and not wearing their helmets,
stroll around the corner.
They are laughing, sipping sherbet.
Their truncheons loose in their hands.
They are like my cousin Isar
who believes women deserve
cut faces, split bones.
I should turn back. On this warm
day my head is hot under the hood
of my coat. I think of the night
my son was born, my prayer
of thanks that he was not a girl.
One of the men tosses the last
of his sherbet on a poster of Neda
abandoned on the sidewalk. I slide
behind a tree. I hope the Basijis
will rush past.
In my secret pocket, my phone rings.
Rubinstein’s sweet piano playing Chopin.
My mother’s Saturday call.
It is eleven o’clock.
Author’s note: When I was working on the poem I wasn’t thinking of myself as a white woman writing about an event from an Iranian woman’s first person point of view. I was caught up in Neda’s bravery and the bravery of the women protesting Neda’s death. Only now, looking back at the poem, I see there is a question in the poem that is personal to me. How brave would I, an American, middle-class white woman, be if protesting and marching meant not just the threat of arrest, but the possibility of dying and leaving a child motherless. That’s a question that I haven’t had to face and maybe that is one of the reasons I admire the Iranian women protestors so much.
Penny Perry is a six-time Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in California Quarterly, Lilith, Redbook, Earth’s Daughter, the Paterson Literary Review and the San Diego Poetry Annual. Her first collection of poems, Santa Monica Disposal & Salvage (Garden Oak Press, 2012) earned praise from Marge Piercy, Steve Kowit, Diane Wakoski and Maria Mazziotti Gillan. She writes under two names, Penny Perry and Kate Harding.
Photo credit: Anonymous.