Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Two poems by
Iranian-American Poet
Majid Naficy

To the Children of Prison and Exile

After the silence of firing squads
Still it burns in our hearts
And we carry their corpses
On our broken backs.
I want to turn this death into life.

How many companions,
Who in these years of defeat and execution
Created life from an embryo?
I am talking about the children of prison and exile:
Cheshmeh, Roza, and Sulmaz.

I want to turn this death into life
That like a jug of water
Becomes filled with the freshness of Cheshmeh,
And like a red rose
Blooms from the lips of Roza,
And like the word sulmaz
Becomes evergreen.
I will sift, grind, and soften this death,
Until the children of prison and exile
Mold it into playdough.
I am calling you,
O newborns of years of pain,
The crocodiles in your painting
Have no teeth,
Because the names of their friends
Never crossed their lips.

I want to turn this death into a poem,
That can be read like magic
When the corpse of a butterfly
Carried by ants
Makes you remember the dead ones.

I want to turn this death into life.

The names Cheshmeh, Roza, and Sulmaz respectively mean: "spring", "rose," and "everlasting."

Ah, Los Angeles

Ah, Los Angeles!
I accept you as my city,
And after ten years
I am at peace with you.
Waiting without fear
I lean back against the bus post.
And I become lost
In the sounds of your midnight.

A man gets off Blue Bus 1
And crosses to this side
To take Brown Bus 4.
Perhaps he too is coming back
From his nights on campus.
On the way he has sobbed
Into a blank letter.
And from the seat behind
He has heard the voice of a woman
With a familiar accent.
On Brown Bus 4 it rains.
A woman is talking to her umbrella
And a man ceaselessly flushes a toilet.

I told Carlos yesterday,
“Your clanging cart
Wakes me up in the morning."
He collects cans
And wants to go back to Cuba.
From the Promenade
Comes the sound of my homeless man.
He sings blues
And plays guitar.
Where in the world can I hear
The black moaning of the saxophone
Alongside the Chinese chimes?
And see this warm olive skin
Through blue eyes?
The easy-moving doves
Rest on the empty benches.
They stare at the dinosaur
Who sprays stale water on our kids.
Marziyeh sings from a Persian market
I return, homesick
And I put my feet
On your back.
Ah, Los Angeles!
I feel your blood.
You taught me to get up
Look at my beautiful legs
And along with the marathon
Run on your broad shoulders.

Once I got tired of life
I coiled up under my blanket
And remained shut-off for two nights.
Then, my neighbor turned on NPR
And I heard of a Russian poet
Who in a death camp,
Could not write his poems
But his wife learned them by heart.

Will Azad read my poetry?
On the days that I take him to school,
He sees the bus number from far off.
And calls me to get in line.
At night he stays under the shower
And lets the drops of water
Spray on his small body.
Sometimes we go to the beach.
He bikes and I skate.
He buys a Pepsi from a machine
And gives me one sip.

Yesterday we went to Romteen’s house.
His father is a Parsee from India.
He wore sadra and kusti
While he was painting the house.
On that little stool
He looked like a Zoroastrian
Rowing from Hormoz to Sanjan.

Ah, Los Angeles!
Let me bend down and put my ear
To your warm skin.
Perhaps in you
I will find my own Sanjan.
No, it’s not a ship touching
Against the rocky shore;
It’s the rumbling Blue Bus 8.
I know.
I will get off at Idaho
And will pass the shopping carts
Left by the homeless
I will climb the stairs
And will open the door.
I will start the answering machine
And in the dark
I will wait like a fisherman.

The Parsees are the descendants of Zoroastrians who emigrated from Iran to Gujarat, India during the Arab conquests. In 1599, Bahman Key Qobâd, a Gujarati Parsee, wrote an epic poem in which he depicts such a migration on a ship from the Straits of Hormoz in the Persian Gulf to the port of Sanjan in India.
The sadra and kusti are special tunics and belts worn by Zoroastrians after puberty.

Both poems reprinted with permission of the poet. Both poems appeared in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo.

Interview with Majid Naficy

Majid Naficy

How did you come to write these two poems?

One of the three children whom I have named in “To the Children of Prison and Exile” is my niece Cheshmeh who was born in Evin prison in Tehran after his father was executed in winter 1983. By writing this poem, I wanted to honor her father and make life out of his death. In “Ah Los Angeles” I wanted to accept my new identity as an Iranian-American and after ten years in exile express my appreciation for Los Angeles.

How did writing these poems affect your recovery?

By writing these two poems as well as similar pieces I have been able to survive after so much personal loss back in Iran and facilitate the process of passage from self-denial to acceptance as an exile in the US.

Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped these poems come to life?

I did not do any thing special. They came on their own. I only made some changes later.

Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?

I still read Walt Whitman now and then. He inspired me to write poetry when I was eleven years old. I also like to read classical Persian poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, Sa’di, Hafez Nezami, and Khayyam as well as contemporary Persian poets such as Nima Yushij, Ahmad Shamlu, Forough Farokhzad and Sohrab Sepehri.

What are you working on now?

I am making some changes in a poem which I wrote for my son Azad in 1995 in order to give it to him as a gift for his 24th birthday. It was first published in my collection of poetry Father and Son (Red Hen Press, 2003). I have renamed it from “We Are Sitting Next to Each Other” to “Haircut.” I wrote it when Azad and I went to Supercuts.

Majid Naficy, the Arthur Rimbaud of Persian poetry, fled Iran in 1983, a year and a half after the execution of his wife Ezzat Tabaian and his brother Sa’id in Tehran. Since 1984 Majid has been living in West Los Angeles. He has published two collections of poetry in English Muddy Shoes (Beyond Baroque, Books, 1999) and Father and Son (Red Hen Press, 2003) as well as his doctoral dissertation at UCLA Modernism and Ideology in Persian Literature (University Press of America, 1997). Majid has also published more than twenty books of poetry and essays in Persian.

Majid Naficy's poetry has been anthologized in many books including Poetry in the Windows edited by Suzanne Lummis, Poets Against War edited by Sam Hamill, Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature edited by Nahid Mozaffari and Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, Lounge Lit: An Anthology of Poetry and Fiction by the Writers of Literati Cocktail and Rhapsodomancy, Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians around the World edited by Niloufar Talebi, After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo, Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing edited by Ilan Stavans, Revolutionary Poets Brigade Anthology edited by Jack Hirschman and Mark Lipman, and Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here edited by Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi.

Majid is one of the six poets featured in the film Poetry of Resilience directed by the Oscar-nominated documentary film-maker Katja Esson. He was the first writer in residence in Annenberg Community Beach House, Santa Monica in 2009-10, and the judge for Interboard Poetry Community contests in 2009. Majid has received awards in two poetry contests, Poetry in the Windows sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective as well as Poetry and Recipe organized by Writers at Work in Los Angeles. His poetry has been engraved by the City in public spaces in Venice Beach and Studio City. His life and work was featured in LA Weekly, February 9-15, 2001 written by Louise Steinman, entitled "Poet of Revolution: Majid Naficy's Tragic Journey Home".

A documentary portrait of Dr. Naficy aired January 2014 on VOA in Persian and now is available with English subtitles at You Tube: Video Portrait of Majid Naficy.

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