Poetry: Weak Ode to Saffron by Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad
With “Weak Ode to Saffron,” Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad sets out to contain the luminous ingredient in language, in line breaks, in a New York Kitchen. But the saffron is too much, invites too much to be contained: love, Iran, the gnarled baskets of workers in her fields.
Weak Ode to Saffron
The waiter places the dish in front of him and I exhale
relieved. The generous weight of saffron sparkles
at the peak of his dome of rice. Each dyed grain
sun-drenched, cascades further along the slope of white
when he turns the plate, and I can tell this is the real kind
by its tangerine-honey blend tint, that metallic earthy sweet,
once crimson threads, ground with a brass
mortar and pestle, before mixed with hot water;
and once found in cave paintings, a shield against evil,
ancient antidote, kindled-carrot color
inked into holy verses,
handwritten into cotton shrouds.
I can tell this is the real kind, this dinner illuminated
with zafferoon from Iran where laborers knelt
to a brief bloom and plucked purple flowers
too delicate for anything but hands;
he scoops the crest first where it’s most gold,
and I watch and wait in this New York restaurant
for his first time, for the spoonful between his teeth,
for the small smile ahead of closed eyes satisfied,
for the mmm that serenades the aroma,
for repeatedly pointing to the rice with his spoon.
And all I want is to un-swell the guilt
of wanting something outside of myself.
And all I want is for love just to be this:
prayers from long ago stretching open in his mouth,
a roofed and walled sky filled with saliva, filling
with a fragrant light—which harvester
yanked crocuses mid-morning from earth,
peeled petals for female organs, extracted
the scarlet stigmas for this meal right here,
which long-skirted woman with her back stiffened
is hoping somewhere suffering is quieter for me,
which doomed descendant with her basket in the field.
Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad’s poetry has appeared in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Waxwing among others. She is the poetry editor for Noble / Gas Quarterly, and is a Best of the Net, Pushchart Prize, and Best New Poets nominee. She lives in New York where she practices law. She can be found on Twitter @mtorbat.