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The Poem

For Reza A’lameh-zadeh


Words are the burying ground of things.
The trot of a horse through these lines
is a sound I haven’t heard since childhood.
Your laughter wilted in my teenage years.
I write
as if on pilgrimage to the city of the dead.
If time by chance slips backwards,
my father’s murmurs will echo
in the ears of the text, the sound of a bullet
will disturb the sleep of these lines
and a wild-haired poem will pace
a room that’s been decayed for years.
Words have been arranged along the faded lines of a house:
Here is a window,
behind the window a courtyard. No one knows
which nightmare awakens the poem. It sees
sometimes, at the window, the glance of a neighbor’s bride,
sometimes the swing and the bicycle,
or the wall with its cheap paintings.
It looks at them
until they come alive
then, to the inhale and exhale of living things
goes back to sleep.


Years ago my father’s murmurs
lost their way in the text of sleep
and the poem lit three thousand candles,
built three thousand paper boats
and offered them all to the sea.
Now that I have packed my bags
and wait for the first train that would not return me here,
the poem is riding a bicycle;
trembling and in haste
it pedals through bumps and puddles,
rings a door bell, stares at whispers and sobs
afraid of being heard.
But the whispers are so loud in the ear
it is impossible to hear the whistle of a train.
I am still in the station
and the poem in Khavaran
protects the dead of these past years
from the gaze of the guards.


A year ago
the poem slipped through barbed wire
where soldiers patrolled the hills of your breasts,
stole your lips,
your hands;
recreated you piece by piece.
This year, soldiers guard the edge of nothing:
your body long stolen.
In the station,
my bench is occupied by a dead
whose name the poem doesn’t know.
(It wouldn’t learn your name either.)
Bullets and warm blood
find their way into the lines—
no paper can stop the bleeding.
The station is full of passengers who are dead.
The firing squads,
and the hanging ropes
are not waiting for any train.
Mumbling grave-diggers
ring the doorbells of three thousand homes.
Three thousand abandoned bicycles
litter the alleys.


The poem is not standing in front of a firing squad.
Nor does the firing squad
know where, on the poem, to aim at.
They simply hike the price of utilities,
the rent, and burial expenses.
I cannot buy cigarettes for three thousand dead
but I can bring them all back to life.
I don’t want to make the poem
send them back to a cemetery
that doesn’t exist anymore;
I only want to remind it
that all the abandoned bicycles have decayed by now,
that no one will ever again hear the jangle of their bells.
The dead will remain in the station
and if the poem can secure a ticket from each reader
it will send them off on the first one-way train.
In my country
three thousand dead in a station is normal.
Three thousand dead on a train is normal.


At the border stations
they arrest our tongues.
Our words decay when they cross that line.
I let go of your hands outside the station,
the train’s whistle hurries my words.
Words have filled up all the cabins,
they dream thousand-year nightmares.
My words are young,
just thirty years old,
but they have piled up
layer by layer
under this prison garb.
Yellow was not the color of my first school shoes,
nor was red the color of my piggy-bank,
or blue the color of my first bicycle.
Words grew up with the colors of your dress;
they were a herd of fleeing horses,
a rainbow that you would take off
and send curving through the air,
falling into mud and dirt,
into handcuffs, darkness, and the command to shoot.


I’m not standing in this long line for bread and milk.
I stand here to surrender my tongue.
Everything crossing the border becomes lighter.
I stand to be translated.
A bicycle rides my borders
over bumps and puddles.
The poem considers conjunctions and prepositions,
the distance between I and I,
the me to-from-on-or me.
It is raining
on conjunctions and prepositions,
on relationships.
In the rain
the distance between us widens,
and in that distance,
Khavaran grows larger.


In my language
every time we suddenly fall silent
a policeman is born.
In my language
on the back of each frightened bicycle
sit three thousand dead words.
In my language
people murmur confessions,
dress in black whispers,
are buried
in silence.
My language is silence.
Who will translate my silence?
How am I to cross this border?