By Jenny Sadre-Orafai:


There is a pregnant bird in the cup.
Malak looks at me like she has never looked

at that in a cup before. My father looks at me
like there are things I’m not telling him.

She crochets baby caps, square blankets,
booties in Neapolitan ice cream colors.

If I ever have these babies, if I’m the bird
in the cup, I’ll want to devour them.

After the last reading she leaves the cup turned up,
daring the bird to forget I was pregnant.


I felt for mountain
and ocean, my first globe.

Mouth or beak. Arm or wing.
Skin or feather. Feet or feet.

Who brought these to me
to dress in booties and caps.

I didn’t ask to know a belly
so tight.

I didn’t ask if it was girl
or boy or bird.


I slept the whole day
without remembering, Malak.

I dreamt I had a son
growing so fast,

a tomato plant sprawled
everywhere, unstoppable.

I held him at my hipline.
And I fed his hunger.

Now he’s a pitcher
of water.

Today’s poems are from Malak (Playtpus Press, 2017), copyright © 2017 by Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Malak is an invocation of past and future. With familial lament and childish wonder, the words lay tribute to the infinite—to the beauty in descent and the heartache that binds us to place. To our smallness in death and the importance of conjuring anew.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather and five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Hotel Amerika, The Pinch, and other journals. Her prose has appeared in Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, South Loop Review, Fourteen Hills, The Collagist, and other journals. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Editor’s Note: Birds, tea leaves, foxes. If there are talismans that illuminate the path Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Malak lays out for the reader, these may be those divining objects. There is magic within these pages — the kind that is conjured up in Gypsy tents and over old world kitchen tables, magic from a time and place when women were believed. But the future is always uncertain, and the tales that unfurl within Malak‘s pages curve and splinter like the lines on a palm.

What is inheritance, this collection asks. What is lived? What is lost? Do we inherit even that which cannot be passed down? Are predictions only as good as their fruition?

Malak is a book that pairs loss with beauty, future with past, the certainty of fate with the unknown and the unknowable. Throughout its pages, a sense of familiarity is established that both grounds and destabilizes. Its stories are told in the dark of night, but under the light of a full and generous moon. When Malak‘s truths reveal themselves, you bask in their luminosity and marvel at the careful magic of their making. You do not ask if they are boy or girl or bird.

Want more from Jenny Sadre-Orafai?
Buy Malak in paperback from Platypus Press
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Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Official Website



By Jenny Sadre-Orafai:


This accordion love expands or exhales,
retracts or recants. It is only as much
as we allow. It squeezes out warnings
of cardboard walls closing in.

Its wheezing fills a willful tide
with dread. I turn to this gone
love. I was taught curve into the slide
when spinning on frozen road.


When I was done, a ring of hair
or a halo curved your hunched
shoulders. Your broad back didn’t
flinch when the scissors’ legs twitched,
when I wanted to cut more than you mimed.


I pretend you’re dead.
I don’t let them say your name.
I was taught it’s impolite
to talk behind a dead man’s back.

I wear black four months and ten days.

I smell your clothes before
hand washing, bagging,
and then giving them away.
I don’t give your mother a thing.

I pray for what’s left of you.

I stack the wedding ring, all the rings
you gave me on my right hand,
my proclamation that you are no longer
with us or like us, the living, listening.

I tell myself what I tell myself
to keep from going back.

Today’s poems are from Paper, Cotton, Leather, published by Press 53, copyright © 2014 by Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

PAPER COTTON LEATHER: “The specter of divorce haunts Sadre-Orafai’s debut, although Paper, Cotton, Leather is much more than a lyrical response to loss. Paper, Cotton, Leather is an instruction manual for the amateur anthropologist, the domestic ghost-hunter, and the doomsday prepper. In ‘Retract or Recant,’ Sadre-Orafai writes: ‘I was taught curve into the slide/when spinning on frozen road.’ This is exactly what Paper, Cotton, Leather can teach us: how to navigate the heart’s switchbacks, how to survive a spin-out on its loneliest back roads.” —Shelley Puhak, author of Guinevere in Baltimore (From the Press 53 website.)

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of four poetry chapbooks—Weed Over Flower (Finishing Line Press), What Her Hair Says About Her (H_NGM_N Books), Dressing the Throat Plate (Finishing Line Press), and Avoid Disaster (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared in H_NGM_N, Gargoyle, Rhino, Redivider, PANK, Mount Hope, Sixth Finch, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and other journals. Her creative nonfiction has been published in The Los Angeles Review, South Loop Review, and The Rumpus. She co-founded and co-edits the literary journal Josephine Quarterly. She lives in Atlanta and is an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Editor’s Note: Reading Paper, Cotton, Leather is like reading a diary written in achingly executed lyric. The compact, controlled poems function almost ironically; tiny scaffolding straining beneath the pressure of massive weight and breadth. The poems are honest. Fiercely, unapologetically honest. Surely it took no small amount of courage for the poet to sift through the wreckage of her failed marriage and catalogue its failures for us in verse.

In the poem “Fortune,” Sadre-Orafai writes, “Our pictures live in a box marked / THE PAST in my parents’ garage.” Each poem reads like its own discreet picture from that box. Vignettes of trying, failing, moving on, and learning to let go. Together those pictures—these poems—tell a story. This book is carefully held by a narrative arc that gives the illusion that we might piece together the end of this marriage like a puzzle. And yet, You know nothing, Jon Snow. This is an expertly crafted book of poems, not a memoir. We are left only with what the poet chooses to reveal. With what poetry is perhaps best at conveying. A selection of life’s moments as if through lens and shutter. Emotion. Regret and loss and heartache. Experience that finds a kindred spirit in the reader. This is a book that one reads to remember that life’s trials are universal, that we are not alone.

We are not alone. So many of us know, or have known, love like an accordion, squeezing out warnings, wheezing and transforming into gone love. “Cutting Your Hair” recalls Delilah, in all her power, destroying her lover. So, too, does that recollection call forth Regina Spektor (who is quoted in one of the book’s epigrams) in her song “Sampson”: “I cut his hair myself one night, a pair of dull scissors in the yellow light.” In this manner one can read Paper, Cotton, Leather like an archaeologist, dusting away layers to discern history, or, as Shelley Puhak suggests, like an anthropologist, observing humanity, past and present. So how does the poet pick herself up, dust herself off, and move into the future? In the most human way imaginable: striving and imperfect. “I pretend you’re dead. / I don’t let them say your name.” “I smell your clothes before / hand washing, bagging, / and then giving them away.” “I tell myself what I tell myself / to keep from going back.”

Want to see more from Jenny Sadre-Orafai?
Buy Paper, Cotton, Leather from Press 53
Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Official Website
Jenny Sadre-Orafai on As It Ought To Be



By Jenny Sadre-Orafai

When I miss her, I open my popout map.
I spill my face into the streets of Tehran.
I hide in Laleh Park. I read street names
aloud, like I’m reporting to someone.
I pretend I see things no one else can─
who took the Peacock Throne, how the burnt
city fell. I say Karaj like I’m telling you your future.

Today’s poem was originally published in Thrush Poetry Journal and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of four chapbooks. Her first collection Paper, Cotton, Leather will be published this fall by Press 53. Recent poetry has appeared in Redivider, Thrush Poetry Journal, PANK, Rhino, Sixth Finch, ILK, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and Poemeleon. Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, The Toast, and Delirious Hem. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Editor’s Note: I fell in love with today’s poem because it so intimately and distinctly tells the poet’s story, and yet, this is not her story. I have my own Karaj, and anyone who has ever loved a city that lies on the other side of the world—anyone who has ever loved a city by way of memory and longing—speaks the language of this poem. I am reminded, too, of Danusha Laméris’ beautiful poem, “Arabic,” of the ways in which love—of a language, of a people, of a place—remain with us across the span of distance and time. When Jenny Sadre-Orafai leaves us with her (killer!) end-line, I know what my future holds. I know what city waits for me on distant shores.

Want to read more by Jenny Sadre-Orafai?
Official Website
Two poems with audio in PANK
Creative nonfiction essay with audio in The Rumpus