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Voices and Verses

National Poetry Month: “Saffron” By Amir Safi

The Houston poet reads a poem inspired by his mother’s cooking.

Amir Safi
Christopher Diaz
Amir Safi


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In this sound portrait, we meet poet Amir Safi. He tells us about falling in love with poetry and competing in poetry slams, as well as the story behind his viral Ode to Whataburger. He reads his poem, "Saffron."

Amir Safi grew up in College Station, Texas and is based in Houston. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University and the founder of Write About Now. His poems have been featured by A plus, Upworthy, HuffPost, Whataburger, Texas Monthly and others. He recently received the 2018 Poetry International Prize.



My mother picks up the pestle and mortar and does to saffron what the clerics have done to her country/ pours in steaming water till the liquid in the bowl becomes the Caspian swallowing the sun/ it smells like a home I have not returned to in 10 years/ saffron/ pound for pound/ the most expensive spice in the world/ worth more in its weight than gold/ if customs found it, they would surely throw it away/ but my grandmother is a high stakes smuggler/ her currency is my mother's joy/ every time she visits, she brings some in her luggage/ and my grandmother always comes through/ and my mother always becomes a festival of lights/ looks at my father/ reminds him that it is her saffron/ approaches me with the same enthusiasm I had as a boy catching a fish/ holds the small packet between her thumb and her index finger and says/ you cannot find saffron this good in America, Amir/ you cannot find saffron like this anywhere, but Iran/ and this is where I learn the limitations of the American dream/ that you cannot find here what you already have/ and I laugh because if customs found it they would surely throw it away/ and I laugh at how borders can make the most valued feel worthless/ but, thankfully, they were not victorious this time/ nor are they ever/ because my grandmother is a high stakes smuggler/ her currency is my mother's joy/ and my grandmother always comes through/ and my mother loves to feed her boys/ so my mother does what Iranian mothers do best/ and we eat until the diaspora dissolves/ until it's time for my brother and I to fight over who does the dishes/ my mother exclaiming to my grandmother/ these boys are American/ they never learned taarof/ I tried to teach them, but they learned all of their manners from their father.


This poem first appeared in the Michigan Quarterly Review and is reprinted with permission of the author.

Music used: Seven Steps (excerpt) by Brooklyn Rider from Seven Steps, Follow the Scout (excerpt) by Mark O'Connor from Midnight on the Water and Escape Artist (excerpt) by Zoë Keating from Into the Trees

To learn more about this series, go here.