Poetry Monday: Sam Pierstorff

Sam Pierstorff

The 2nd Pillar of Islam Was the Hardest

Prayer always came at the worst times:
just as my brother and I were poised to wrestle for the prize
of Julie’s 9-year-old heart or in the middle of a street football game
when I finally got my turn to be quarterback.

That’s when my mom’s voice rang out like an opera singer
from her kitchen window, “Salah, boys, time to pray!”

I could almost hear the glass breaking in every apartment,
the stinging of jagged shards peppered all over the grass
as we ran home barefoot—too quickly to explain to our American friends
what prayer meant in the middle of the afternoon when school
was long over and the real fun was just beginning.

We scowled at my mom, marched into our bedroom,
and sat motionless on our bunk beds for what seemed like
the right amount of time for prayer. Then we told our lies:

“Yes, Mom. We prayed. Yes, we made wudu.
Yes, we made du’a for the sick, the poor, the needy.”

The kitchen linoleum never burned so brightly as when
we stood there before my mother and her wooden spoon,
the tip dotted with red sauce like a freshly used sword.

Even when she told us to swear on the Qur’an, we did,
feeling guilty each time our tongues painted dark
circles around the holy book, our palms pressed against
the embossed cover—the gold cursive lettering
as smooth as we thought ourselves to be.

And now, some 20 years later, I don’t remember
if I threw any touchdowns or scored one with Julie,
but I am sure I tried for both in those days when
the idea of heaven seemed so far away, and the big end
of Mom’s wooden spoon was the only hell we knew.

Sam Pierstorff was born in 1975 to a Syrian Muslim mother and an American military father from Kentucky. After their divorce, Sam was raised alongside his older brother, a tough-as-nails mother, and a parakeet named Tiki in Orange County, California.

Sam received his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing before becoming the youngest Poet Laureate ever appointed in the state of California when he was selected to the position in 2004 by the city of Modesto.

Sam currently teaches English at Modesto Junior College where he is also the founding editor of Quercus Review, a national journal of prose and poetry, and host of Modesto’s monthly poetry slam, “Slam on Rye.” His debut poetry collection, Growing Up in Someone Else’s Shoes, was published last year. He recently won an Award of Merit from the California Association of Teachers of English. He used to benchpress competitively (up to 355 lbs.) before hurting his back. Now he swims daily and only lifts his three children when he must.

2 Comments on “Poetry Monday: Sam Pierstorff”

  1. Kids and Moms!! The same across all cultures!! This was great. Thanks!!

  2. Loved this one, mashaAllah!