In Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, the narrator discusses “upsilamba” with her students. After suggesting that the word was probably an invention of Nabokov, she invites her students to come up with new meanings for it. I wanted to join the defining game, of course. To me, upsilamba (in the poem below) describes an eruption of emotions screamed into the world by a young woman who has had enough. If you haven’t considered Reading Lolita in Tehran, I urge you to give it a go.


Winter laid frigid
fingers on July flesh—

while my limbs were naked
and her howling whip
(breeder of gasps
and shivers)
should’ve been already dead.

Betrayal puckered skin,
forced chatter into bones
and avalanched cold,
cold rage.

“Remove the gloves,”
she commanded.

I bared crimson fingernails
(and white teeth), and shouted,
“Upsilamba!” in her face.

a wee note…
– Linked to the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads and to Poets United (Poetry Pantry 331).