By Roger Sedarat
The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created by one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the calamity of others
You are unworthy to be called by the name of Human.
“Children of Adam,” Sa’di
In the days of hope we had poetry.
Lines of Sa’di inscribed
on the entrance of the United Nations
almost convinced us we belonged
to each other, children of Adam
with a president reciting this verse
to our siblings on their new year
and a foreign president who reciprocated
by rhapsodizing about the origins
of the younger, enterprising nation.
Enemies of the first called him “Muslim”
like it was bad, his message going back
to the Qur’an as source of universal love
just as enemies of the second called theirs “Western”
shaming him for aspiring to such values.
Despite differences we related to the idea
of the 13th century sufi mystic.
Sometimes we experienced it as love
though we couldn’t quite explain it,
which is why we needed poetry.
On the woman’s chador…
a picture of a woman
wearing a chador on the
woman’s chador a picture of a woman
wearing a chador on the woman’s chador…
I couldn’t stop looking at her face,
superficially obsessed with the picture
of a woman wearing a chador
on the woman’s chador…
Spread out on floors of a house
bought by my father’s Iranian-
which continues to unravel
the free market
of his rags to riches myth
into a moth
gnawing on fibers
holes in the thread
faceless kings turned
to empty tea trays held
by servants kneeling
the great empires
with withered spines
toward their maker
“Censorship is the mother metaphor.”
Awaiting parts, 30 grounded airplanes
turn into a simurgh.
Denied medicine, Bijan blooms
roses in his diseased blood.
Numbers from the SWIFT payment system
regress to nightingale eggs: OO
Mr. Molani’s metalwork melts
down to a few faceless coins.
Rotting threads of the unsold carpet
expose the lion’s rib cage.
So many rooftop satellites—
waves of the Caspian rolling toward the west.
Our mothers in chadors spread their arms,
a blizzard of bats transcending the Muslim ban.
Oil inevitably seeps through Chinese barrels,
blanketing Beijing in smog.
How’d the rich kid get an iPhone?
(The iPhone is simply an iPhone).
Well, I got the fever down in my pockets,
The Persian drunkard, he follows me.
Bob Dylan made his muse a Persian drunk
Is that okay? Let’s ask the Persian drunk.
How come no Nobel for my country songs?
My baba was a far worse Persian drunk.
I saw the six white horses, sweet Marie,
When you put me in this prison, drunk.
You’ve tried the transplanted Australian wine.
Here’s real Shiraz. Now, that’s a Persian drunk.
Hafez did not go to the mosque for God.
He found divinity in Persian drunks.
Raised in America and really shy,
I find I bravely speak great Persian drunk.
Roger Sedarat is the author of four poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP’s 2007 Hollis Summers’ Prize, Ghazal Games (Ohio UP 2011), Foot Faults: Tennis Poems (David Robert Books), and Haji as Puppet: an Orientalist Burlesque, which won Word Works 2016 Tenth Gate Prize for a Mid-Career Poet. A recipient of the Willis Barnstone Prize in Translation, his rendering of classical and contemporary Persian verse have appeared in Poetry, Brooklyn Rail, and Michigan Quarterly Review.
His most recent academic book, Emerson in Iran: the American Appropriation of Persian Poetry, is the first full-length study of the American poet-philosopher’s engagement with the classical verse tradition of Iran. He teaches poetry and literary translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York.