Iranian Edition (Vol I ) | Poetry by Bänoo Zan | Issue 39 (2021)

The Story of My People

By Bänoo Zan


How many—

as we speak—


have fallen in protest against hunger

at the hands of

the government of the oppressed[1]

in the jail-land of the home-land


Streets are war zones—

soaked with blood—

yet again—




Pay for the bullets

we used to kill your child

Bury the body at night

We forbid a funeral




In the dark days

beasts were unleashed against



The beasts dressed like people

looked like people

lived like people—

The beasts were people—


You couldn’t tell who were the people

and who were the people—


This is the story of

my people—




And they dragged the wounded

from the streets and hospital wards

to makeshift detention centres


Drones hovered overhead

They recorded protestors

and arrested them

one by one—




And we turned away

We couldn’t bear to watch

the tortures—

the floggings—the cables—

cutting through the flesh—

the nerves bursting

into clips of recorded



We couldn’t bear to watch

the broken bones and resolves

We couldn’t bear to watch the hangings

and the threats of rape—

we couldn’t bear to watch the rapes—


We closed our eyes

There was no evidence

Communication had stopped

and the beasts went unleashed


We could not verify

so we did not report




But I believe the worst

and trust the rumours


I have always believed the worst

about my people—


I have lived long enough among them

to know they are capable of the worst





this weight of exile

is light in the light

of this darkness—




And if the waves roll into a revolution again

would there be a moon cycle

or will it stain the body

as yet another failure

of freedom

to bloom




The protestors had no leaders

but the oppressors

had an imam

who called his people enemies




I may be the voice

but the story is not mine

This is the story of my people—




We are people

sanctioned by the world

and savaged by our kin


We are people

like you and yours—

lovers, children, parents—


We are people with a long history

of bloodshed and civilisation and

cruelty and art


The criminals are our people—

The torturer, assassin, rapist, dictator

are our people—

and so are the people—

We play all characters in this play—

kill and nourish

save and condemn

We are our own heaven and hell

We are our own people—


The jailer the same blood as the prisoner—

the rapist the same blood as the violated—

the murderer the same blood as the corpse—


We go around the vicious cycle

one more time in this blood dance


accusing the others

of being the others




My people are a sleepless nightmare

My people are a dream

that never came true


These are the people I call my people—

the people who share my destiny

in bondage and freedom


I wish this wasn’t

the story of my people


My people have lost their story

My people are a divided people


The Isfahan minarets shake in sympathy

the domes stained with unhallowed blood

The Thirty-Three Bridge[2]

offers no passage over the River of Life[3]


The mirror work replicates the bullets 

to infinity




The woman steps out of the pharmacy

kneels down to help an injured citizen—

is shot in the neck

and meets the Allah

the ayatollah does not believe in




Where are you, God?

They kill us in your name

They kill you in your name




He was arrested unbroken

Two days later

his body was delivered

with a gunshot wound

in his neck




A few days after her arrest

her confession was aired

on state TV—

the video carefully edited




Is God a dictator

or an assassin

ruthless torturer

or a revolutionary guard?


The leader

the follower

the liar

obey Him!

So they claim!




How does a nation

fight against

what it believes in?




But God!

This time when we finally dethrone you

we will show no mercy

to blood


As you showed yourself

no god of mercy

but a god of blood


We will be a

godless people


and free



Let me tell you

why I am here—

away from my people—




As we all are—

away from our people—


Those who do not look like us

or speak our language—

are all our people—




I left my people—

as blood bombs


on the carpet of



and safety was conformity—

and is still—


My people—

loved me so much—

they wanted me—

to be one of them—




In this lonely space of now

I wonder

was I ever one of my people—

was I ever one with my people—


I have always been

the other—


an outcast

whose story

speaks a different language—

whose bloodline

is alphabet of ancient ruins—

who doesn’t know

how far back the memories

of her nation go—

who is drowning in the wave

prophets rode to vision—




This is the history—

of usurpers of truths and tempests—

whose god is my god—

whose god is no god—




Let me tell you

how I got here—


I didn’t—

I am still in the land

I left behind—

and will never ever



Let’s hold hands—

the mother said to her son—


That was the most beautiful

night of our lives—

she said later—


Ten minutes after their hands separated

she saw the crowd

bringing the body

chanting: “I will kill, will kill

whoever killed

my brother”[4]




“I am someone’s son,”

he said in the video he was taking

before he was taken down


They planted him

under a tree




People in black

beating their chest and head

mourning the martyred imam

of centuries ago—


Even the Ashura

cannot keep the revolution alive

when you resurrect it

against mourners

to whom distance

from danger is denied


We are mourning

the joy of vicarious mourning— 


Don’t speak to me

in the name of god or land

when you want me dead—




This dam—

cannot hold—



stains the butcher

in the pages to come—



is harvested

in this desert

that was once an oasis—


Nothing grows but hunger

in the Republic

we once tried to build—


The sacred dead

in martyr-chronicles

rebel against sanctity—


The wolf howls in freedom ruins—

in this urban war—




I am not my people—

I am a people without a people—


I own borders

but have no roots—


I am on both sides—

on all sides—


on my own as well as my assassins’—


When I quake

the rubble crushes

me to death


I have no courage

to raise my fists

I do not dare

to mourn my loss



You brought tanks into the streets—

anti-personnel vehicles—

machine guns—

and took aim at

chests and heads—

Like Zahhak[5]

you have a craving for youths’ brains




but testimonies emerge—

into the sunlight—


You hoped silence

would save you


but you know there is no saviour

don’t you—

killing the way you do—




We have voices

You have weapons


We have faces

You have masks


We have poetry

You have scissors




Who is my people?


Who is not?

No one—



Blood costs less than fuel

they chanted




A mother of six

watching protests

on her balcony

was shot in the heart

and died on the way to hospital

across the street




The leader

wants to announce them shaheed[6]

He wants to pay blood money—

to silence his own people




The world was absent—

The world turned away—

Now that I can’t see—

you said—

I can pretend that I can’t see—

What I can’t see—

you said—

doesn’t exist—

Show me the evidence—

you said—



The leader that kills his own people

is their enemy—


But the leader is

one of our people—


We have always been

jailing, torturing, raping, killing

one another—


We have always been

othering one another—


Some of us

have been better

at being us

than others—





“My brother is a youth—

my brother drowned in his blood—

his hair a volcano”[7]




Who is my enemy?


My culture is my enemy—

My God is my enemy—

My people are my enemies—


All strangers plotting against those

are my enemies—

those who have no past

and those who have no politics—


Politics is my enemy

and history is my enemy—

My past glory and present misery

are all my enemies—




In this enemy world

I reach out and embrace

my enemies—




Does the story

have to unfold

like history

or can we have

a blessed chapter now? 



I am divided—

against my people—


I am me—

and I am my people—


I am the one who reconciles

and the one who divides—

and I am the witness—




I am my story—

I am the story of my people—

and I am none—




I am the blood of

the martyrs of revolution—

and the martyrs of  freedom—

a drink

fit for a nation

that God betrayed—




Send a miracle

to this desert—

join it to the sea—

Let the sun dance on the waves—




We are a sad people—

If someone laughs

others explode:

“What is wrong with you?!”




When worshippers stand in rows

shoulder to shoulder

I keep myself away—

I have been hated by too many—

My tense muscles

bricks in the wall of separation—




They have taken you away

from my people—




My people have struggled

with your name


Deliver your people

from nameless night—

Stand with people!





We are broken—

Send us a miracle—

Send us joy, laughter,

and hope—


[1] مستضعفین
[2] Si-o-se-pol (literally: The Bridge of Thirty-Three[spans]) an ancient bridge in Isfahan, Iran
[3] Zandeh Rood or Zayandeh Rood, literally “Live River” or “Life-Giving/ Birthing River”
[4] می کشم می کشم آن که برادرم کشتThe chant at the start of Islamic Revolution against the agents of the Pahlavi regime, repeated later under the Islamic Republic against suppression
[5] Iranian Mythology, the Shahnameh, the king that demanded brains of the youth to be fed to the serpents growing on his shoulders
[6] Martyr
[7]برادر نوجوونه. برادرغرق خونه. برادر کاکلش آتش فشونه Line from a revolutionary song at the start of Islamic Revolution in Iran 

Bänoo Zan is a poet, librettist, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, with more than 200 published poems and pieces along with three books. Song of Phoenix: Life and Works of Sylvia Plath, was reprinted in Iran in 2010.  Songs of Exile, her first poetry collection, was released in 2016 in Canada by Guernica Editions. It was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award by the League of Canadian Poets in 2017.  Letters to My Father, her second poetry book, was published in 2017 by Piquant Press in Canada.

She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Toronto’s most diverse poetry reading and open mic series (inception: 2012). It is a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices and visions.

Social media links


Songs of Exile 
Letters to My Father  

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