In Deep Are These Distances Between Us, Atefat-Peckham troubles preconceptions of nationhood and fixed systems of power by bringing her reader into the home and offering twilit glimpses of boundless familial love and intimacy. Atefat-Peckham reaches for a network of care, the foundations of which are laid in these poems’ ability to imagine and access the multiplicities of the human experience. Evoking a rich Iranian-American landscape, these poems ultimately articulate a spirituality that has no spatial or temporal boundaries, one that travels effortlessly between life and death to arrive at a timeless poetics, a treatise on empathy we need now more than ever.
Deep Are These Distances Between UsSusan Atefat-Peckham, with editing by Darius Atefat-Peckham
|6 × 9 in
It is natural that under the words of poems like these, a geography forms. Transnational, existing between countries and cultures, the poems of Susan Atefat Peckham were part of the charting of a unique landscape. Like the poems of Meena Alexander, Shreela Ray, Reetika Vazirani, and Agha Shahid Ali, her poems have languages, locales, food, and fabrics fully other than the familiar material of American poetry. We have been waiting a long time for new poems from Susie, and here they are, found in files by her son, another poet of life and the mind. Rumi taught us that every poem must be followed by silence. We must listen carefully to the words we have been given. We are not bereft. This is a cartography of love and wonder. Cardinals, cardinals everywhere.
—Kazim Ali, author of The Voice of Sheila Chandra
These poems burst from “the deep dark black mouth of memory” where Atefat-Peckham navigates borders of existence and effectively sings herself back into this world. “Nothing dies in places we’ve left behind,” she writes, then lifts up the moon at her feet and gives it “back to the empty sky.”
—Sholeh Wolpé, author of Abacus of Loss
I first met Susan Atefat-Peckham through her poems—a kindred spirit navigating the spaces between. I wrote to her, and our correspondence was one of a shared searching. When I learned of her death, I reached out to Joel Peckham, her husband, asking him to lend me some of her poems for the anthology Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora, which he generously offered and which opened each section of that book. How beautiful, more than sixteen years later, to see a whole collection of her work tended and lovingly brought into the world by her young poet-son, Darius, and to “think / of what it means to be left behind, think / of the scream, so loud it comes out in silent / bowls shimmering with the hands of those who / survive.” This collection is a gift. These poems, shimmering and “quiet with negotiation,” connect the deep “distances between us.”
—Persis Karim, poet and editor of Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers and Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora
At the Airport
Friend, I understand
this much: you crushed me
we are bells,
half-worlds, our mouths
hollow like a life never lived
because we were meant
that way. And because you
and I, each on our side
of the world, will knock
at these walls, no door, only
ringing, the ringing, and music
is a spinning cup full
with absence. I have
learned this much:
nothing breaks open
the heart like walking
in opposite directions.
The soul lives there in the silent breath.
When one has lived a long time
without, there is a blue burning
for. To look at the red and black
of her life pulled strong like canvas
over her bones, you’d think she’d
learn to live with distance, learn
to breathe the quiet that fills souls.
But she breathes blue. To tell him so,
she would need words louder than
the silence between them.
II. To My Son at Seven Months
For now, you fill
My palms, my arms, with warm and quiet
Song. And I am glad.
The earth should fold my breathing
To its breast and hold me there, I would
Swallow stones, would tear its roots,
Its trees, for missing you, your face,
Your open hands spread soft and round,
Ice flowers on my throat. And I should
Always smell your breath bloom down
My folding arms, sweet, white, milkweed,
Aging, flying, from this frozen ground.
Deep Are These Distances Between Us
Susan Atefat-Peckham, ed. by Darius Atefat-Peckham
Pub date – May 2023
Trade paper – 6 x 9″
Notable Voices – Poetry