Just Like That

I’m grinning, trying to hide it with my face.

You’re, like, The Toxic Positivity Guy, 

you tell me and I’m absolutely positive 

that I am, hurt and smiling, even as you shrink away, 

as if it pains you, you who knows me better 


than anyone, to hardly know me at all.

I’m like the man I walk past days ago, chortling 

smoke from his nose. Or maybe like the bird 

he chases to safety across Boston

streets, yelling, Ayyy, Gobble, Gobble! 

I smile as my heart races. And the people shake 

their heads in their cars. I’m thinking of all the people

who’ve ever called me sweetheart. I’m trying

to be. Sweet in the heart. Sad with levity. Gratefully 

unabashed. Is it possible? A boy 


from your old high school died this week. 

Just crossing the street. Head bowed to his

hands, eyes open and searching like any animal

that knows what will kill it is just born

from its looking. Even now, I sometimes look


to the sky, missing home like

an immigrant. How can I explain this? I am

no immigrant. But still, I can never look

to country, only to sky. I can never say I am

one thing more than the other, though


I wish to. I’m searching for something 

to say about my mother and brother. For them 

to help me say something to you. Maybe

it’s this: the first thing I ever learned

was that death is bad. That death is bad 


and to believe it. That death is bad

until the playground calls me Osama

sticking its insides out at me, pink

and moving. I’m speaking to you like you are

the sky, like you are everyone I’ve ever loved 


and missed, like you are already gone. Why?

Because I hate the dying like I hate

the children who skip nimbly from

branch to branch, baring their shiny teeth

just like me, just like that. Because when I ask

my father about the people dancing 

in the streets, he explains that they are just

happy, just celebrating. Flapping their arms

as if they know that death is bad

until the dying is done. As if they know


they can’t risk flying like that.

Darius Atefat-Peckham is an Iranian-American poet and essayist. His work appears in Poetry Magazine, Poem-a-Day, the Georgia Review, Rattle, Indiana Review, Barrow Street, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Journal, the Florida Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbook How Many Love Poems (Seven Kitchens Press). In 2018, Atefat-Peckham was selected by the Library of Congress as a National Student Poet. His work appears in the anthology My Shadow is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora (University of Texas Press). Atefat-Peckham lives in Huntington, West Virginia and currently studies English and near eastern languages and civilizations at Harvard.