Learning to Pray

Kaveh Akbar

            My father moved patiently

cupping his hands beneath his chin,

            kneeling on a janamaz

then pressing his forehead to a circle

            of Karbala clay. Occasionally

he’d glance over at my clumsy mirroring,

            my too-big Packers t-shirt

and pebble-red shorts,

            and smile a little, despite himself.

Bending there with his whole form

            marbled in light, he looked like

a photograph of a famous ghost.

            I ached to be so beautiful.

I hardly knew anything yet —

            not the boiling point of water

or the capital of Iran,

            not the five pillars of Islam

or the Verse of the Sword —

            I knew only that I wanted

to be like him,

            that twilit stripe of father

mesmerizing as the bluewhite Iznik tile

            hanging in our kitchen, worshipped

as the long faultless tongue of God.

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