Poetry


 

     Table of Contents

JANINE POMMY VEGA
     Wartime Kitchen
     Mean Olí Badger Blues
SIMIN BEHBAHANI
     Itís Time to Mow the Flowers
ABBAS SAFFARI
     Saturday Night Dinner




JANINE POMMY VEGA


Wartime Kitchen

I think of Yannis Ritsosís women
marching to the kitchen at the first sound of war
I think of the bulk of Grandma in Jersey City,
a bulk I could never duplicate as I pad across
the floor to grind the sweet basil grown
last season, to brush the cat, to chop garlic
for salad dressing

Deliberately quiet tasks, though I could start
throwing pots around like my mother, I can tell you
make such a ruckus you would wonder who had
gone insane, and itís the world
in the photos I will not bring home,
in the leering sneering posture of an imposter
president, put in charge by corporate fists

I could show you how weeping has worn a hole
in my heart as deep as the slippers
she thrust her feet in cold Polish mornings,
Iíve become that babushka woman
witnessing carnage, all wisecracks are out
of place, no jokes for broken children or screaming
mothers, dead soldiers are children themselves

No jokes for the children, everybodyís children
I do not forgive their slaughter
the oil the arms the gold piled high as this house
cannot buy their laughter, cannot bury their shrieks
in the night, I accuse the old white men drowned in greed
of their murder, I will bang every pot and pan
I own for a world free from their hands.



Mean Olí Badger Blues

Used to be a mountain climber, highest passes on the earth,
Said I used to be a climber, highest mountains on the earth
Lucky now to get my boots on, half a mile all Iím worth.

Badger moves in fast as lightning, takes up lodgings
           in my shoes,
Said he moves in just like lightning through my gloves,
           and in my shoes
Ugly name is Arthur Eyetis, I got the mean olí badger blues.

Badger shot me in the elbow, in the wrists and, on a roll,
ran over all my fingers like a bus over my soul.
Seems my lifeís some kinda funnel, all ease moviní
           down a hole

I got them mean olí badger blues.

Plan ahead is not my forte, but I canít stand last minute mess,
Donít know where that badger strike me next, or when,
          in what distress,
Feel caught up in regulation, like a rat pressed in a dress.

I got them mean olí badger blues.

If you see me on the highway, sorta hobbling sorta stiff,
Badger kicked me in the shoulders, in the knees or in the hips,
Iíd just love to punch his lights out, but I cannot make a fist.

I got them mean olí badger blues.


Janine Pommy Vega is the author of twenty volumes of poetry and prose, including Poems to Fernando, Tracking the Serpent: Journeys to Four Continents, and Mad Dogs of Trieste: New & Selected Poems. Since 1987, she has been the director of Incisions/Arts, which brings writers into prisons to perform, teach, and lead poetry workshops. The two poems included here appear in her new collection, The Green Piano (A Black Sparrow Book, 2005, published by David R. Godine, www.blacksparrowbooks.com).

 

SIMIN BEHBAHANI

Itís Time to Mow the Flowers

Itís time to mow the flowers,
donít procrastinate.
Fetch the sickles, come,
donít spare a single tulip in the fields.
The meadows are in bloom:
who has ever seen such insolence?
The grass is growing again:
step nowhere else but on its head.
Blossoms are opening on every branch,
exposing the happiness in their hearts:
such colorful exhibitions must be stopped.
Bring your scalpels to the meadow
to cut out the eyes of flowers.
So that none may see or desire,
let not a seeing eye remain.
I fear the narcissus is spreading its corruption:
stop its displays in a golden bowl
on a six-sided tray.
What is the use of your ax,
if not to chop down the elm tree?
In the mapleís branches
allow not a single bird a momentís rest.
My poems and the wild mint
bear messages and perfumes.
Donít let them create a riot with their wild singing.
My heart is greener than green,
flowers sprout from the mud and water of my being.
Donít let me stand, if you are the enemies of Spring.

--Translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa


Simin Behbahani was born in Tehran in 1927. She published her first ghazal, a short lyrical genre in Persian poetry, when she was fourteen. She studied to become a mid-wife, but because she was suspected of belonging to the Tudeh, or Communist Party, initially she was not admitted to Tehran University. After that, Behbahani wrote in
A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems of Simin Behbahani (Syracuse University Press), ďthe purpose of my poetry has been to fight injustice.Ē She has published fifteen volumes of poetry. This English translation of ďItís Time to Mow the FlowersĒ appears in the newly published volume, Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, Edited by Nahid Mozaffari, Poetry Editor: Ahmad Karimi Hakkak (NY: Arcade Publishing, 2005). It is reprinted here by permission of Arcade Publishing (www.arcadepub.com), copyright © 1999 by Syracuse University Press.



ABBAS SAFFARI

Saturday Night Dinner

The onion, I will grate
to keep my stream of tears from drying.
The potato, you peel
for your sleight of hand with skin.

Let Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan, the Sufi minstrel, play
for he opens us a window to Konya,*
a window adorned with narcissus, sleepy-eyed and languorous,
and a handful of homing pigeons.

If they call
from MasterCard
or the Internal I-donít-have-any-Revenue Service,
tell them heís gone to Kashmir
looking for the long-lost polo ball of King Aurangzeeb of India,
and itís unclear when heíll be back.

Donít laugh, my darling!
Cultural misunderstandings
dismiss the disturber
quicker than hollow conversation.

Now, while this aged Indian rice ripens,
put two glasses, lip to lip, near our hands
of our oldest vintage, four years old
and a reminder of a century past.
A sip of good wine
is enough to erase an entire
century from oneís memory.
Sip after sip
we can backtrack so far
that after dinner
we can find ourselves in the moonlit
palm groves of Mesopotamia,
and around midnight
in a primordial place naked
and boundless.

--Translated by Nilufar Talebi

*Konya is the resting place of Rumi.


Abbas Saffari was born in 1951 in Yazd, Iran, and moved to the United States in 1979. He was one of the first to write avant-garde, surrealist lyrics in Iran for the singer, Farhad. He is the author of several books of poetry, including
Twilight of Presence and Old Camera and Other Poems, and has been poetry editor of Iranian literary magazines in exile such as Sang and Cactus. He lives in Long Beach, California with his wife and two daughters and is one of the few Iranian poets living outside of Iran whose work is published and read in Iran. This English translation of ďSaturday Night DinnerĒ appears in the newly published volume, Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, Edited by Nahid Mozaffari, Poetry Editor: Ahmad Karimi Hakkak (NY: Arcade Publishing, 2005). It is reprinted here by permission of Arcade Publishing (www.arcadepub.com).

 

Logos would like to thank Dick Seaver, editor in chief of Arcade Publishing for permission to include the poems of Simin Behbahani and Abbas Saffari in this issue. Arcadeís new anthology of Iranian literature, Strange Times, My Dear, was published following an important First Amendment lawsuit filed by Arcade, PEN American Center, the Association of American Publishers, and the Association of American University Presses challenging recent U.S. Treasury Department restrictions prohibiting U.S. publishers from editing work by authors from countries that are subject to U.S. trade embargoes (such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, etc.) without applying for a special permit. 

Arcade was unwilling to apply for this permit, in the belief that the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restrictions were a clear violation of freedom of the press and the First Amendment. Following the largely successful lawsuit, OFAC issued a ďgeneral licenseĒ that allows American publishers to engage in most ordinary publishing activities in regard to authors from these embargoed countries. The Treasury Department did not, however, completely eliminate all regulations in this area, and advocates for free expression remain concerned that OFACís revised regulations may still require publishers to apply for a permit to do work that may fall outside of what OFAC considers ordinary publishing activities. Advocates are also concerned that a department which feels it has the right to issue a ďgeneral licenseĒ to grant what ought to be viewed as a basic constitutional right could potentially at some point in the future revoke that license. For more information about the lawsuit and the free-expression issues involved, visit www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/412