Bus Stop by Ceri Allen. Used with kind permission of the artist


Marjorie Lotfi



– my Muslim grandmother’s words when giving a crucifix to my Methodist mother in Tehran

It doesn’t matter that she’s blonde,
doesn’t know a single word of Farsi,
or how to taarof, always refuse first,
before accepting a gift.

what you believe is your own trouble;
not one of us understands all the words
of our mother tongue. Look at the eye,
my father told me, watch it speak.

as long as you are here, I will be shelter.
believe in something: your hands pressed
together, palm to palm, are my body folded
into the name; each of us maps ourselves
in the mirror, measures what we already know.


The Wrong Person to Ask

Ask me for the measure of rose water
in baklava, how to butter each layer of filo
away from the corner so it holds itself apart
under heat, or the exact crush of pistachio,
fine as rubble, not yet dust.

Ask why the man squatting on our roof
in the worst sun of Ramadan refused even a sip
of my water, waved it away like a drink offered
in rain. Ask about the fountain out back, its patter
of stray drops against sidewalk the devil’s music.
Hitchi, he’d said, I want nothing.

Ask me how to speak one kind of English
at school and another at home.

Ask about the cherry tree at the bottom
of the garden, and the only time I remember
it in fruit: my father smiling, pulling me
from the cleft of its branches in darkness.

Ask about the bars on my bedroom window.

Ask me how many sugar cubes I could slip into
my chai before Maman Bozorg noticed. (Four.)

Ask about giving live chicks in a cardboard box
as a get-well gift for a child with chicken pox.

Ask why the baker mixed the dough for barbari
in an old claw-footed tub before feeding
stretched handfuls into the mouth of the fire.

Ask about the army of ants, daytimes, and the scattering
of cockroaches, nights, how they can fly into dreams.

Ask about Kadijeh and Anola, their mud-walled hut
squat in our rose garden, tending the Shomal house
and their sealed mouths for twenty-five years.

Ask me about chicken soup for a childhood cold,
the beheading of a bird for my benefit, the refusal
to open my mouth in gratitude.

Ask how the grandfather clock of a samovar,
its bubble and hiss, marks out time in the house.

Ask me how to taarof, how to say no
when you mean yes.

Ask about my Ameh, the warmth of her arms around
my skinny frame, her language that seeped across
my tongue. Ask how I can have forgotten Farsi
and the sound of her voice bidding me, night
after night, to sleep, to let the day go.

Ask me how to listen.

Pulbished by Rattle, with audio recording here.


Selected Feature Performances and Publications:

Feature Performances

Coastword Festival (2018)
Scottish Poetry Library (Refuge Launch, 2018)
Talbot Rice Gallery, Pine’s Eye (2018)
Scottish Poetry Library (Ctrl+Alt+Del, 2018)
StAnza (2018)
University of Edinburgh (2017, 2018)
Edinburgh International Book Festival (2017)
St Magnus Festival (2017)
StAnza (2017)
Wigtown Book Festival (2016 and 2015)
Dundee Literary Festival (2016)
Rosslyn Chapel (upcoming 2017 and 2016)
Shore Poets (2016)
Blind Poetics (2016)
Henderson’s Poetry and Coffee (2016 and 2015)
Naked Aye Gallery (2016)
BBC Radio 4 (Something Understood, 2015)
Scottish Storytelling Centre (2015)


Pilgrim, (EMS, available at the Scottish Poetry Library)
Refuge, (Tapsalteerie Press, available here)


Rattle (May 2018)
Gutter (2018)
The Rialto (March 2016)
Gutter (February 2015)
Acumen (January 2015)
The Reader (January 2016, October 2015, April 2015)
Amsterdam Quarterly (Spring 2016, September 2015)
Magma (October 2015, December 2014)
The Lampeter Review (September 2015)
Southlight (September 2015)
Raums (June 2015)
CURA (Spring 2015)
Rattle (December 2013 and August 2014)
The North (August 2014)
Midwest Quarterly (Winter 2014)
Ambit (July 2014)
Mslexia (December 2013)

Newspapers and Radio

The Scotsman (April 2018) “On seeing Iran in the news, I want to say”
The Scotsman
 (February 2017) “Gift”
The Scotsman (July 2016) “Caught and Stopped”
BBC Radio 4, Something Understood (July 2015) “Barren”
The Scotsman (April 2014) “Out to Sea”


Mind the Time (2017)
Dark Mountain Review 
(September 2016)
Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2107)
House of Three (2016)
Ailblins (2016)


Shortlist, Poetry School Primers 2016
Runner-up and Highly Commended, Wigtown Poetry Competition
Nomination, Pushcart Prize 2016
Highly Commended (Special Mention), Mslexia 2014 Poetry Pamphlet Competition
Longlist, The Rialto/RSPB Nature Poetry Competition 2015
Shortlist, Bridport Prize 2014 and 2015
First place, National Galleries of Scotland ‘Inspired? Get Writing’ Competition 2014