“Shirazi Limes” by Farnaz Fatemi

It’s 1975 and I am sitting still on the sofa in Mamanjoon’s living room in Tehran, family all around, staring at my aunt Farideh across from me in a chair. She is eating a Shirazi limoo, a thin-skinned, small fruit whose sour bite is slightly tempered by sweetness—the kind of flavor that one can only find in Iran.

I watch nearly hypnotized as she sticks the half lemon-lime into her mouth and

slowly sucks out the juices. She squeezes it into her mouth and then opens it up and folds it the other direction and squeezes it again, making sure there isn’t any juice left. I take a deep breath and try not to blink as she puts her fingers on the rim of the lime, her thumbs at the stem, pushing it inward until its turned completely inside out. Her lips pucker in anticipation. I watch the pleasure flush over her face as her teeth grab onto the pulp and steal it into her mouth, leaving only the rind, like a dry bone.

Over the past few days I have watched others in my family suck Shirazi limes, too. I have studied the various techniques and strategies well. But this is the day I will try it myself. I reach into the large fruit bowl and carefully choose a lime, which I then cut in half. I take one of the halves, squeeze the juice eagerly onto my tongue and squeeze it again and again until it’s drained enough to turn inside out. As I stick it into my mouth, however, drops of juice drip down my arm. But I’m too excited to care. My girlish impatience gets the better of me, ignoring the tried-and-true methods of extraction, as I bite into the juicy pulp. My tongue recoils from the sour taste. But a moment later it darts back for more, greedy for its tangy, forbidden taste, devouring the fruit. When I eventually take the lime out of my mouth, I look up and see that everyone is watching, both in pride and amusement.

“Oh honey, don’t do that,” my mother says with a smile and then turns to my aunt.

“Your teeth and gums will rot,” Aunt Farideh, says. “Look at mine, I shouldn’t do it either.”

I look at her mouth as she smiles, but see nothing wrong with her teeth. Then I beg for another. “Please,” I say. “I want to see if I can turn it inside out properly this time. Just one more, I promise!”

All these years later as an adult, thousands of miles away, Mamanjoon’s living room, Shirazi limoos and Iran in the spring remain strong in me and in my taste for sour things. Some people cringe when I shoot limes into my mouth. Some even try to stop me. But my friend Hussein, who knows the taste well, says, “Aren’t these amazing? There isn’t anything I have found here in America like this.” I nod, sucking hard on the lime, wishing that there were, but happy, too, that there aren’t, knowing that they would never taste quite as good.

About the Writer

Farnaz Fatemi is a first-generation Iranian-American poet, writer and writing teacher. She teaches writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In addition to regularly publishing poems in journals and anthologies, she is also the author of the libretto for the internationally-produced opera, Dreamwalker.