By Mohsen Emadi, Translated by Lyn Coffin
A stranger always carries
his home in his arms
like an orphan
all he is looking for
is a grave
to bury it.
Folk tales of this city speak of an alien that arrived with a blonde and a suitcase on the coldest day of the year at the oldest house in the city, where he rented a room. No eyes could look at him. He was an abyss in the shape of a man. Upon his arrival, all paired objects suffered damage to their coupling. Oral culture tells us a woman was living in the next room. All she owned was a pair of flowerpots, passed down to her, hand to hand, from ancient times. Upon the alien’s arrival, flowers in one of the woman’s pots started to wither. The woman started crying but only one of her eyes produced tears. The eye without tears now saw only shadows. When the alien and the blonde left the city, the snow that had been falling stopped, and the woman saw two flowerpots on her shelf. One of the flowerpots was full of ashes.
Again I am in this city,
and this time people see me
they sit beside me with their coffees and
they start chatting.
They tell me their memories of me and ask me humorously
If I ate the blonde in those far-off lands?
When I stay silent,
I see fear in their eyes.
Their bodies are paralyzed.
One of their eyes stays fixed and the other moves rapidly from side to side.
Legends say this type of animal was widespread in the world after the great fire of Rome. After that fire, this animal inhaled air and exhaled ash. The ash of this animal’s exhalations on a bed or a pillow caused insomnia or nightmares. It is known that the dead animals used the bodies of the living to speak out and for this reason the living animals do not have agency over themselves and their sexual desires vary depending on the number of their significant dead. To talk to them is to talk to their dead. If you want to learn their language, it is necessary for you and an animal to spit three times mutually into each other’s mouth. When someone masters one of these languages, their skin color immediately changes.
Again I am in this city
and still the weight of time is heavier than anything else.
The place leads all five senses to a deep sleep.
The eye in the continuity of snow rarely faces the discrete occurrence of a house.
The ear in the harmony of silence and breath hears the non-harmonic breaking of a tree in the depths of the forest.
The skin grows numb.
The snow does not have a smell.
And the tongue gets used to hunger.
From the four corners of the earth, my dead
lend me the sense organs stolen from them:
an eye by a shrapnel shell, the skin by fire, the nose and mouth after a chemical bombardment, an ear in the explosion.
With the intensity of all the desires hidden in loss
I look at pavements, snowed
full of the remains of cigarettes
The passers-by are not visible
without a body, without lips
I search for words
that make invisible the visible
and impossible the possible.
Hand in hand with oblivion
I stand in front of a mirror that does not show me to myself
and I start singing.
Homer and Sophocles were not the only ones to speak of them. But the Romans committed a grave error and imagined them as living only underwater. The Greeks had clearer images of them. The survival method Homer used in front of them was the following: All five senses must remain closed and escape from them was possible. However his strategy was not useful after the great fire of Rome. Like many other animals, they have the ability to sense fear in their prey. They are not Eaters of the Dead. The Dead, in their belief, are Gods and therefore when one faces them, it is better to play the role of someone dead. The eyes are the part of the human body that attracts them the most. It is known that they get the shine in their eyes by looking into our eyes and stealing our souls from them.
Again I am in this city and still I don’t know
when your eyes are green
if language is the house of existence
or a battlement of the city
The old victors
were burying captives alive
Your eyes were green
and I know language has crannies,
that one can look at you through them
or can bury somebody in them.
The walls of my language
the walls of your language
and the dead
in the crannies.
Your eyes are green
and my walls are high.
pass through the crannies of poems
and march over my body.
is always a traitor
and your eyes
When they fall in love with somebody, they eat them. Usually they start with the deepest organs: livers, viscera and hidden meats. The prey never feels any pain. The empty space of the consumed organ is replaced by a solid or liquid emptiness that functions like the lost organ but is devoid of life. Because the natural environment of their daily life is full of unpredictable events like bombardments or wars, they are used to anything unpredictable and surprising. They may shout without any reason. They may not show any discernible movement. They may even turn to stone suddenly. If you are forced to live among them, never cease your natural routines: play sports daily, take long showers, eat healthy meals. Never forget that no contract with them is considered valid. They use a kind of ink for signing contracts that removes itself when they wish it. In fact what they give to you never has authenticity. It simply does not exist, is either imaginary or has previously been stolen from you. Their songs are mostly melancholic and sad because they never listen to the voice of living beings. They think the music of the dead is the only possible music.
Perhaps again I am in this city
Perhaps in a concert hall
or a studio
where the fingers of piano players
touched the keys
and played this song
the quality of voice proves
the player’s hands are decayed
but I can lean over the scratched notes
as if I am sitting in a train
advancing to the front, to war,
and am supposed to get out at a safe station.
Perhaps in a concert hall
or in a small room
where your lips
were playing on my tremblings
your whispers were close
your hands young.
In another language
you were lying beside me
you were stealing my nightmares through the trembling of my body
and were translating them to your breathing.
The translations were taking you on a trip.
You reached all the harbors of the world
all the sailors were sending you kisses
you were stripping naked in the mist
you were embracing the distances between nightmares
your nakedness was filling up
the space between your breaths.
I was running in that space
and the sailors were shaking hands.
Always the snow falls
in our unconsciousness.
I am still in this city
and a sonata in flat white major
accompanies my breaths.
This music can only be heard by the dead.
To imagine a frozen tomb without flowers, without visitors, under the tones of snow, was disgusting, and Poetry was not interested in the death of the poet in this city; therefore he himself interfered and while the poet was sleeping wrote the rest of the text.
You should die like your grandmother
dreaming of dancing at your wedding:
her colorful shirts
were pouring from her sleep into yours.
But you are born
the moment the angels fall,
and you must die into a word.
A unicorn will come out of your chest
and your body will turn to a sad melody
sailors will whistle when they are trapped in the mist.
Suddenly a waterfront appears
and they pace the street
where you were born.
The resurrection of all the defeated is in that street.
In the geography of the impossible
you were advancing and were kissing her shoulders
and the rest was silence
and the embrace of darkness.
The victors of the territory of the possible
outside the frame of the mirror
outside the whiteness of paper
were lighting lamps
were opening windows.
you were gazing at the emptiness of her room
the white of the paper
and you did not believe in her death.
Now with flowery clothes
she comes to the street where you were born
and asks for your bride.
and awaken in a city
where you inhale air
and exhale ash.
Sleep in your childhood cradle!
This city is cold.
I cannot change the color of your skin,
the color of your eyes
but from shore to shore
I sing you a lullaby:
No woman stole me from you.
Songs stole me from all the women.
They brought me to Malaga.
I cried on the grave of a song in Malaga
and I was born with another song in Seville.
Songs were being buried in the snowy embrace of women,
they were sprouting on your colorful skirt.
I want those Malagaian green eyes!
—Be patient, they are yours.
I want the moonlight skin of the princess of Seville.
—Hurry, grow up, that is yours, too!
No woman had green eyes in Malaga.
There was no princess in Seville.
You don’t have a bed covered with violets
or a red rose in your hand.
This wound, this bullet, this snow-
they were not in your songs.
Now, from Seville, where do I have to go?
Everything in you must attain the quality of the defeated.
at the moment the Duero gets blocked,
the dead children of Llorona.
One day all the roads end in Rome.
She must assassinate Gandhi in you.
You have to sleep each night in a mass grave,
the one insane drunkard of the city
that searches for the remains of cigarettes on the pavement,
drowned in the darkness of the waters of the world,
a tightrope walker along the borders of the impossible
to be able to compose the melody,
that small melody
your grandmother was singing
in her death sleep,
the one thing that brings you to Rome
and you set Rome on fire
Your grandmother’s shirt
reached you in a package;
it smelled of death and of her.
In a pocket was the ring
she wanted to give to your bride.
She didn’t know that in this city
being born in her house is a crime.
Her language is a crime.
You lie down, place her shirt under your head, and go to sleep,
your sleep turns colorful.
You’re at your grandmother’s wedding,
and her mother puts the ring on her finger.
From the mountains of Mazandaran
to the sierras of Chiapas,
are singing the llorona:
the red of fire.
Mohsen Emadi is an Iranian/Mexican poet, translator, programmer and filmmaker. He has published the poetry books La flor en los renglones (Lola Editorial, Spain, 2003), We never talked about her eyes (Goo Publishing, Iran, 2007), Las leyes de gravedad (Olifante, Spain, 2011), Visible como el aire, legible como la muerte (Olifante, Spain, 2012), Abismal (CrC, Mexico, 2016), Standing on Earth (Phoneme Media, USA, 2016), Suomalainen Iltapäivä (Olifante, Spain, 2017); as well as the book of conversations with Clara Janés and Antonio Gamoneda, De la realidad y la poesía (Vaso Roto, 2010).
His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and his poetry has been translated into several languages. He is the founder and editor of the Persian Anthology of World Poetry and Ahmad Shamlou’s offical website. As a filmmaker, he has directed several poetic documentaries, among which Querido Antonio stands out, on the influence of the Civil War on Antonio Gamoneda’s poetry; La ùnica patria, which contains the last interview of Juan Gelman, or Donde habite el olvido, about Luis Cernuda’s exile in Mexico. Since 2009 Emadi left the country to exile and consequently he lived in Finland, Czech Republic, Spain and Mexico. His poetic work has received various international awards.