I still dream
of my red bicycle
on the green shores of summer,
my unruly hair casting shadows on the water,
my school work peppered with grape pips.
Pulling away, growing up, was hard
in that weather of thorns and stones,
I let the bright shining marbles slip from my fingers, one by one.
No-one to play with, I sat by the side of the road,
my bicycle, rusty in the shed,
that green shore, a picture on the wall.
The Boat that Brought Me
Behind these eyes that look like mine
old names are fading away,
the past lies crumpled in my clenched fist –
a coppery bird in coppery wind,
this vast place has covered me from head to toe.
I am not stripped of word and thought
but sometimes what I want to say gets lost
like a moon smudged with cloud, or when I splutter on a drink.
My tongue trips up when I speak of that journey
though the blood in my veins felt the truth of death.
As I traced my footsteps through the tracery of my old language
Summer whispered to me
my frozen fingers began to put out shoots
and I began to love the cold ebb and flow of tides.
Sometimes I miss
the boat that brought me here,
now that I am witness to the icy eyes of a Swedish winter
under these tired old clouds,
while that suitcase still holds a patch of the sky-blue me.
The corn poppies came first,
then the locusts
and after that the unravelling wind.
That was how childhood looked to you
before the dark water, before the thorns,
before the mountain range of a thousand mosques
cast shadow over those wild flowers.
First the poppies went
then the royal rooms grew shabby,
the photos of Oppenheimer, Lumumba,
the red furniture – everything went to the second hand shop.
Joyous accordions and flags of mourning,
Turks and Kurds,
little blue patterned headscarves –
all passed by in the street.
‘By Appointment to…’ the Princes, my father’s brothers,
was stamped on every cup and shisha,
my mother, first in line for Friday prayer, kept her back to me,
my brother joined the Bassij.
First the locusts come, then the poppies
first the poppies went
then the locusts…
The hollow of the eye fills with snow,
the valleys of winter are white,
then come the thorns and the dark waters…
The First Rains of Spring
It is better to bustle away,
to be busy with some work or other
and keep love at bay.
For when it takes hold
we find significance everywhere we look,
the stork’s point of view seems persuasive,
we long to learn the language of lizards,
even an ant’s dizzying ascent looks meaningful.
And what have we gained from it?
Only the last winds of autumn,
The first rains of spring
Negative of a Group Photograph
I am younger in this photograph,
younger than anything I’ve ever written,
and I am the third missing person.
Inside me, undercover, my words were taking shape.
Like a moth waking from its cocoon into summer,
peering out from between my fingers,
from my hiding place, as a poet, I stepped out.
Keeping my heart well-hidden,
holding myself back a little
I sat exposed.
In the darkness I searched for that merciless tree
and maybe the trace of a green rope.
For you must remember Ghazaleh?
I am younger in this photograph,
younger than my own shadow.
Anything that I could not write
I disguised, hiding myself in my daughter,
losing myself in my mother.
We sought relief in the first sign of spring rain
but my heart will always ache with the loss of these women.
For you must remember Nazanin?
Those days were crazier than any war,
where words were whispered fearfully
under an old army blanket.
Only poetry could hold us close,
when it wasn’t lost for words itself.
Between the shape-shifting letters
peeped a child’s face,
the writing all disjointed and hard to decipher.
Between Winter and Summer
the overcast skies pushed us apart.
Between the road that twisted around my neck
and the words that took fire in your mouth,
I don’t think that you remember me?
With a pair of scissors,
I trim away all shadows from the image
clothing us afresh for Spring.
Your lines were another new beginning
and poetry the only fresh clothes that I knew,
a love that was more beautiful than ever.
We are strangely young in this picture,
our heads resting against one another,
intimate, affectionate – there I am.
. In this stained old black and white negative
with our enormous fixed smiles,
we faced the world, standing tall.
In memory of the poets Ghazaleh Alizadeh and Nazanin Nezam Shahi who both died young and in unfortunate circumstances.
Republished here from Nagative yek akase dastegiamì/ Negative of a Group Photograph, courtesy of Bloodaxe Books. We thank Mia Lecomte for introducing the journal to this wonderful poet and making the poems available to us.
Azita Ghahreman (Mashad, Iran, 1962) has been living in Sweden as a political exile since 2006, and currently lives in Turkey. She is the author of five poetry collections: Avazhaaye havva (Songs of Eve, 1991), Tandishaaye paeezi (Autumn Sculptures, 1995), Faramooshi aine sadei daarad (Oblivion Has a Simple Ritual, 2002), Inja humehaye kalaghast (Here the Crows’ Outskirts 2008), Hipnos dar matab doktor Kaligari (Hypnos in Dr. Kaligari’s Study, 2012), partly translated into Swedish in 2009 in collaboration with Sohrab Rahimi and Christine Carlson. In 2013 she was awarded the Prince Wilhem Prize from PEN Sweden. The Russian an Ukrainian translation of her poems received the Udmurtia Russian Academy’s Ludvig Nobel Prize in 2014. The poems translated here are from Nagative yek akase dastegiamì/ Negative of a Group Photograph, a Farsi-English bilingual publication (Bloodaxe Books & Poetry Translation Centre, 2018), which won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2019.
Cover image: Artwork by Irene De Matteis.