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Learning My Name

By Marjan Naderi

—after Mohamed Hassan

In first grade, I told kids my name was Sarah.
Saw the way Sarah lifted the curtain
But never cleared the confusion
white enough for no one to ask questions.

In second grade my teacher did roll call every morning.
I'd clench my fists as she'd sputter,
john ni-dee-ree
to the broken record of her eyebrows.

Every time my name is said, my bloodline
folds scripts of history.
So it sounds better in the job interview.
Strips the vowels hidden in my voice
Not fitting for the western tongue.

Mar-John Nadeeree

Oh so like the plant Marjoram?
Like parmesan?
like the Chinese game Mar-jong?

Like the way my first white teacher said it.
The way she corrected me in front of the classroom
until I learned to strip parts of my identity the way she did.

Taught me to bite down my tongue
and watch my heritage crumble to pieces
beneath my jaw that
she'd feed herself.
She taught me to white out my name in the Farsi dictionary.

Reminded me,

For a family tree to stop growing
you gotta rip it from its cultural roots.
Tear away from what was once growth.

She planted my roots in
stolen soil
called it America.

You shouldn't know another language here.
Besides? What do you have to roll the R for?
It's the only thing us white people can't do.

When you forget where you're from,
that's when you'll become truly American.
let me teach you a new symphony.
Learn to sing our song now.

Forget the bloodlines
or your blood will be next in line
for our red carpet.
Roll out your history only to have us stampede.
We'll turn the Attan into the 8 Step Masquerade.
Must I remind you of the 7 Day Battle?
Or the 6 seconds it took
to love a language that will never learn your name?

When I cry to my mother's feet
She reminds me:
You translate to the coral in the depth of heaven's rivers.
Your name is Marjan.
You grow from the root word maraj, flowing freely.
When they try to powder your name
the rest of your identity disintegrates along with it.
Flags and people wave at the same things they have forgotten.

So remember,
Your grandfather did not immigrate halfway across the world
For you to flatten into someone else's mouth.
Our names hit like atom bombs that radiate through decades.

your hands hold the lifelines and the lifetimes of a lineage.
When they ask your name,
if you dare to feel ashamed,
seek every fighting fiber hidden in your warrior of a body.
Remember they can't empty the bloodline of a fighter,
so reload another stone into the slingshot that is your mouth.

Reach out the palms of an engraved heritage
and say,
Marjan Naderi.




Listen as Marjan Naderi reads, "Learning My Name."

Added: Tuesday, June 18, 2019  /  Used with permission.
Marjan Naderi

Marjan Naderi holds titles of being a 5-time Grand Slam Champion winner, the Library of Congress’s 2018 National Book Festival Poetry Slam Champion, 2-time Nationals MIST Spoken Word Winner, 2018 NoVA Invitational Slam Champion, and the 2019 DC Youth Slam Finals Slam Champion. While being on the 2018 & 2019 DC Youth Slam Team, Marjan has been featured on The Washington Post and NowThisHer.

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