Nostalgia

Oh if a man could crawl out of here
as a snake or lizard, and go — no!
Grow wings
and take flight, fly
to a place where the world no longer resembles a dirty rumor
a place where the scorched feast of sand
stretches
To be alone without
even hands or feet, without head, without cock
to be . . .
And the sea wash him constantly
like the luminous presence of a stone, smooth
circular
the sea wash him constantly

— Reza Baraheni

An Azerbaijani Turk from Iran, Reza Baraheni was imprisoned, tortured, and kept in solitary confinement by both the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Family of Scatterable Mines

Suitcases of dried limes, dried figs, pomegranate paste,
parsley laid in the sun, burnt honey, sugar cubes hardened
on a baking sheet. Suitcases of practical underwear,
hand-washed, dried on a door handle, stuffed into boxes
from Bazaar-e Vakeel, making use of the smallest spaces,
an Arcoroc tea glass. One carries laminated prayers
for safe travel. I stand still when she smokes
esfand and fans away an evil eye. And when she asks
does this mean he will die? I say yes
without worrying it will break her. Suitcases
of fruit knives, of embossed boxes
with gold coins inside, the gaudiest earrings
brought for me, yellow, loud as these big women rolling meatballs
on the kitchen floor, lifting lit coals
with their fingers onto a head of tobacco.
Shisha comes from shisheh, which means glass.
Jigaram, they call me, which means my liver.
Suitcases they unpack and repack
over Iranian radio, between calls passing gossip,
the report on the brother’s liver: it’s failing, and he
doesn’t want the sisters around because they will pray
and cry over him like he’s already dead. Sisters unfurl
black shawls from suitcases to drape over their heads.
I carry trays of dates before the men, offer little
square napkins, thank their condolences, hold the matriarchs
while they rock. I answered yes when one asked,
does that mean he’s going to die?

— Solmaz Sharif

American poet Solmaz Sharif was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents. She holds degrees from UC Berkeley and New York University. Family of Scatterable Mines takes its title from U.S. military systems for mine warfare.

[Research note: Solmaz Sharif, LOOK (Minneapolis: Gray Wolf Press, 2016): 38]

One night I will return to my birthplace

One night I will return to my birthplace
to stand on my rooftop
and pick stars.

Father will say, “Look, There!
Don’t you see the Seven Brothers?”
I will stretch out my hands
and caress their unsheathed swords.
Then the nightly battle will begin.
Together we will cast out the moon-eating dragon
and in the dark corners of heaven
we will fasten each star firmly in place.

At dawn Mother will say, “Look,
There! Don’t you see the Two Sisters?”
I will stretch out my hands
and caress their jugs of water.
They are the messengers of the rain-making clouds
that disappear with the rising sun.

My brothers! My sisters!
One night I will return to my birthplace
so that under my childhood sky
I will find again my own stars.

— Majid Naficy
(Translated by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.)

A critic of the Khomeini regime, Majid Naficy fled Iran in 1983 after the execution of his wife by firing squad.

Mamad Ali’s Hour

4 a.m. will always be a special time for Mamad Ali

(I have heard him scream I have heard him scream)

how many hours does he have in 24?
20 hours he has
he’s tortured 20 hours every 24

for the remaining 4 hours
he crawls on his stomach to the cell for an hour
he stares 2 hours at the wall
he dozes off an hour
until the strident clang of the cell door
snaps him out of his sleep like the lash

it is 4 a.m.
outside
the call for morning prayer has surely begun
Dr. Rassuli is praying
then he rolls up his sleeves and takes
Mamad Ali to the torture chamber
for the sake of the god he alone knows

Mamad Ali pisses blood for days, does Mamad Ali

4 a.m. will always be a special time for Mamad Ali

(I have heard him scream I have heard him scream).

— Reza Baraheni

An Azerbaijani Turk from Iran, Reza Baraheni was imprisoned, tortured, and kept in solitary confinement by both the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

(untitled)

Eight paces from the gate,
Sixteen paces toward the wall.
Which scroll speaks of this treasure?

Oh, earth!
If only I could feel your pulse
Or make a jug out of your body.
Alas! I’m not a physician.
I’m not a potter.
I am only an heir, deprived,
wandering in search of a marked treasure.

Oh, hand that will bury me,
This is the mark of my tomb:
Eight paces from the gate,
Sixteen paces toward the wall.
In the Cemetery of the Infidels.

— Majid Naficy
(Trans. by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr.)

A critic of the Khomeini regime, Majid Naficy fled Iran in 1983 after the execution of his wife by firing squad. The above poem documents the search for his wife’s unmarked grave in Khavaran Cemetery.