Mohsen Emadi


Mohsen Emadi
Translation: Lyn Coffin

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The Poem


Words are the burial ground of things.
The sound of the horse galloping in these lines
is a sound I haven’t heard since childhood.
And your laughter decayed in my adolescence.
I write
as if on a pilgrimage to the city of the dead.
If by chance time travels backward,
the murmurs of my father
resound in the ear of the text,
and the voice of a bullet disturbs the dream of the lines,
and the poem with mussed up hair
walks around a room decaying for years.
Words are scattered on the faded blueprint of a house.
Here is the window.
Outside the window is the courtyard. Nobody knows
which nightmare awakens a poem.
Sometimes the window and the secret glance of a neighbor’s bride.
Sometimes the swing and the bicycle,
or the wall with all its cheap paintings.
It looks at them hard in order to become alive
and in the space between the inhalation and the
of living things
it goes back to sleep.

Years ago, the murmurs of my father
got lost in the dream of a text
and the poem lit three thousand candles,
made three thousand paper boats,
and gave them all to the ocean.
Now that I’ve packed my bags
and am waiting for the first train
that won’t bring me back,
the poem is riding a bicycle.
Trembling, rushing headlong,
it pedals over potholes and through puddles,
rings a doorbell, stares at whispers
and moans, afraid of being heard.
In the ear of the text, the whispers are so loud
that it’s impossible to hear the whistle of a train.
I am still in the station
and the poem in Khavaran
pushes people who’ve been dead for years
out of eyesight of the guards.

A year ago
the poem slipped through a gap in barbed wire
where the soldiers stood guard on the hills of your breasts.
It stole your lips
and it stole your hands,
in order to recreate your body.
This year, the soldiers stand guard on the edge of nothingness: your body has been stolen.
In the station,
a dead person is in my seat,
whose name the poem doesn’t know.
(It can’t learn your name, either.)
The bullet and warm blood
sink into the lines.
No paper can stop the bleeding.
The station is full of travelers, all dead.
The firing squads
and hanging ropes
aren’t waiting for a train.
The murmur of the gravediggers
rings the doorbell of three thousand houses.
Three thousand bicycles are abandoned
in the alleys.

No poem ever stood in front of a firing squad.
And the firing squad
does not know at which part of the poem it must aim.
It just increases the price of water and electricity,
rent, and the cost of being buried.
I cannot buy cigarettes for three thousand dead,
but I can make them all alive.
I don’t want to force the poem
to return them to a cemetery
that no longer exists.
I just want to remind the poem
that nobody will listen to the repeated ringing of the doorbell,
and all the abandoned bicycles have decayed.
They will stay at the station.
And if the poem can take a ticket from each reader, it will put them on the first one-way train.
In my homeland,
three thousand dead in a station is natural,
three thousand dead on a train is natural.

At checkpoint stations,
they detain our language.
Our words decay when passing that border.
I let go of your hands outside the station,
the whistle of the train flusters my words.
Words occupy all the compartments.
They have thousand-year-old nightmares.
My words are young,
just thirty years old.
But under these prison clothes,
layer upon layer,
they keep accumulating.
Yellow is not the color of my first school shoes.
Red, not the color of my piggy bank,
blue, not the color of my first bicycle.
The words ripened with the colors of your skirt.
They were a herd of weeping horses,
a rainbow you were taking off
to send arcing through the air,
falling into mud
and handcuffs, darkness, and the command, Fire!

I’m not standing in this long line for bread and milk.
I’m standing here to turn over my language.
Everything gets lighter when it crosses the border.
I’m standing here to be translated.
A bicycle patrols my borders,
pedaling over potholes and through puddles.
The poem gazes at conjunctions and prepositions,
in the distance between I and I,
I to from on I.
It’s raining
on conjunctions and prepositions,
on relations.
In the rain,
I distance myself from you.
And Khavaran, in the distance between me and you,

In my language
every time everybody suddenly falls silent,
a policeman is born.
In my language
on the back of each frightened bicycle,
three thousand dead words are sitting.
In my language,
in murmurs, they make confessions,
in whispers, they wear black,
in silence,
they get buried.
My language is silence.

Who will translate my silence?

How can I cross this border?


  • Khavaran is a town located at the southeast of Tehran, where there was Bahai, a cemetery used to bury prisoners of conscience murdered in the 1988 mass execution. It was demolished by the Iranian government in January 2009.