2020 Whiting Award-winning poet Aria Aber on kindness and the poem “Beauty” by Solmaz Sharif
April 24, 2020
We’re bringing you the second installment in a new video series on The Margins called AAWW at Home. As we continue to shelter in place, you’ll hear from writers we love on what they’re reading right now, mutual aid efforts and organizations they are supporting, and more.
Today, we hear from Aria Aber, recently named a 2020 Whiting Award winner in poetry and the author of Hard Damage, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Recording from her home in Oakland, Aria reminds us of the importance of kindness in this moment, encourages viewers to support Visions for Children, an organization that focuses on improving the conditions of the educational system in Afghanistan, and closes with a reading of the poem “Beauty” by Solmaz Sharif. You can read a transcript of Aria’s message below.
The following is a transcript of the video above.
Hello dear community. My name is Aria Aber, and I feel incredibly honored to be a part of this project for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I hope you’re all sheltering in place and are staying health and safe. I’m sheltering in my apartment in Oakland at the moment, and I feel very privileged to have an apartment and to have a job that sustains me throughout this crisis.
I know not everybody has that, so please be kind to each other. And donate to your local mutual aid funds and offer help in your community in whatever way you can.
There is one organization that I would like to promote today. It’s called Visions for Children, and they’re doing incredible work all year round in Afghanistan and in Kenya. They’re building schools and helping the education system. It’s a brilliant charity organization. At the moment, they also offer COVID_19 relief packages for families in Afghanistan who are incredible vulnerable and have no safety net and no health insurance. So it’s really important work. If you can, please help, otherwise, share it on social media and spread the message.
What are you reading?
I know it is hard to turn to literature or art in this time. I try to read one poem a day to center myself. It doesn’t always work. But sometimes it does, and it feels good when it does. There is a poem that I’ve been returning to over and over again over the last few months, but especially the last few weeks since we’re in quarantine.
It’s called “Beauty” and it’s written by Solmaz Sharif. I will share it with you now.
by Solmaz Sharif
Frugal musicality is how Kristeva described depression’s speech
Cleaning out the sink drain
The melted cheese
The soggy muesli
My life can pass like this
Waiting for beauty
A life is a thing you have to start
The fridge is a thing with weak magnets, a little sweaty on the inside
A bag of shriveled lime
Arugula frozen then thawed then frozen again, still sealed
I haven’t touched anyone in a year
You asked for beauty, and one morning, a small blue eggshell on the stoop, shattered open, its contents gone
M asked if I’ve ever made a choice to live and why
I lied the way you lie to the suicidal
A few times, I said—not Most days
No, not morning
Morning I am still new
Still possible, I’m still possibly
Usually by 3:00
When grandmother died, she hadn’t been called beautiful in at least half a century
Is never described as such
Her fallen stockings, the way she spit, thwack of the meat cleaver, the little bones she sucked clean and piled on her plate, not really looking at anyone, and certainly not me
Please stay safe, everyone. Thank you.
The poem “Beauty” by Solmaz Sharif was originally published in Freeman’s: The Future of New Writing.