Poetry at Sangam



Lidless Coffins With No Bodies by Behzad Zarrinpour

                          In Khorram-shahr, for my brother Behrooz. The Caroun River did not return him to us.
I couldn’t reach the bell
so I used to knock.
Now that I can reach it
the door isn’t there anymore.
I return:
It’s a day or two before
the ringing of school bells,
the children’s TV show
has just ended and as usual
we pick up the ball
an elastic eerie siren
stops our play,
lacerates the finches’ chirps.
A women’s unripe fetus
falls to the ground.
The Caroun river halts
for a moment
beneath the bridge
and we are invited
to a new game where balls
transpose to flames
instead of flowers.
The finches lower their nests,
we reel in our kites,
the grownups hush their voices,
and from then on
no tablecloths are spread
for meals.
I take off my shirt.
Caroun river does not remember me.
Water treats bloated bodies
bitterly, dumps them
out of the river’s memory
into the ocean’s oblivion.
It is as if
the river could yield nothing
but mournful grief.
I return:
They pull our school’s caretaker,
a deleted man,
out from under the rubble
of headmaster’s office,
one hand clasping
a crumpled map of Iran,
the other a kerchief
for local dances and tears.
And we, despite our normal
terror and fury, cannot contain
our joy in closing of schools
until further notice.
We are given new calendars,
every day of which is marked
in red until further notice.
I go to care for injured palm
trees. They ask me for ropes.
How their shoulders are burnt
in their longing for swings,
and how every Friday they
sweep the shadows of these palms.
I return
to bring them swings.
←Behzad Zarrinpour
The wind has filled the city’s nostrils
with destruction’s odor.
No one flees the harsh sun
for the gentleness of unstable walls.
Spread-out inhospitable tablecloths,
empty promises,
stomachs that instead of bread
eat bullets,
and bankrupt salt sellers
who have dispatched their gunnysacks
to the warfront to be swelled with sand.
Grandmother’s tongue is so terror-struck
she cannot remember her prayers.
Boys a bit older than us
pick up guns and birdbrain ideas
and march to the borders of rain and lunacy
to reclaim our lost sleep and vanished colors;
and after a few bullets are buried
amidst a few broken verses.
And we who didn’t have the opportunity
to lose our rhyme, instead compose
shroud-white elegies.
By the time mother locked the doors
father had unlatched the cage,
but our pigeon journeyed
passed the trees, unperturbed…
And this
was the beginning of exile
and of rationing of the moon,
the continuation of bounty-less
nights, windowless tents too small
for our dislocated dreams.
Those first days
everyone raised their tents
and prayers half-heartedly.
They carried their house keys
everywhere they went,
forgetting that when we had left
the city alone on its own
no one had sprinkled blessing-water
behind our departing steps.
Through the years
my heard became a slab of steel
that nothing could cut through
except for my childhood turf.
But now how could we run
carefree through its mine-filled
streets and squares,
or impishly jump over bonfires
set not for play but to scorch?
How I fret,
I, who for all these years
dreamed so humbly
and with such privation
as to not to give a soul
a cent’s worth of claim.
All I want is to spend
my pocket money on a piggy bank
—except that this time
I’d fill it with bullets and wheat.
This time…
The wind’s voice rises.
I sense it has much talk to blow.
I wet my finger and run aimlessly
with the wind:
Clocks that always tick behind,
schoolyards’ rusted-bell recesses,
harvested fences,
unsowed seeds,
jittery palm trees,
dolls in full military makeup,
banks with accounts liquid with blood,
lidless coffins with no bodies,
roof gables without feathers and wings,
blocked drain pipes that even on the edge
of brokenness will the possibility
of spurting into the streets,
windows left ajar,
broken walls and pummeled streets
that have no desire to rise
as if never festooned with lamps.
My brother Behrooz,
in his yet unpaid fancies
was satisfied that an alley
would be named after him.
He’d always say: I pity those who die
without such promise of a back street.

Backstreets and alleys,
which one of you will remain
erect and standing?
Aye, aye,
prodigious Caroun river,
tell your shell-stunned fish
to reconcile with these boats
that grief-sway on the shores.
The fossils of scales and
pummeled dances are not rescued
from under the collapsed bridge
to be ferried off to museums.
Translated from Persian by Sholeh Wolpé
←Behzad Zarrinpour