The Paths Toward Song

Summer, 2012

Majid Naficy


My love has a narcissus
In her mouth
Carried with her
From a prison in Iran.

I know that from behind bars
One can see a flower
In the face of the moon,
And hear the migrating cranes
In the blue sky.

I know that behind eyelids
And inside clenched hands
And between each execution
And the lines of the last letters
And the whispering knocks on the wall
And the torn seams of joy
And the empty holes of pain
the twilight of hope
And the hidden summit of pride
One can,
Yes, one can hide Spring.

And yet, I wonder in those dark cells
How one can grow a narcissus
So white,
Without any stain of blood.

Marked Treasure

----in memory of my late wife Ezzat Tabaiyan, executed on January 7, 1982

Eight paces from the gate,
Sixteen paces toward the wall.
Which scroll speaks of this treasure?

Oh, earth!
If only I could feel your pulse
Or make a jug out of your body.
Alas! I'm not a physician.
I'm not a potter.
I am only an heir, deprived,
wandering in search of a marked treasure.

This is the mark of my tomb:
Eight paces from the gate,
Sixteen paces toward the wall.
In the Cemetery of the Infidels.

When my late wife, Ezzat Tabaiyan, was executed on January 7, 1982, her body and those of others were buried without gravestones in the Cemetery of the Infidels, near Tehran. Families were obliged to determine the burial locations by measuring paces.

Visiting the Wall
We climbed the Great Wall of China
And reached the second watchtower
Where a narrow, dark minaret
Joined the blue sky in a balcony.
There, I saw three poets of Tang dynasty:
Wang Wei, the monk,
Li Bo, the mystic
And Du Fu, the sage.
They were looking at the deep valley
From the top of the balcony.
I told them that I have read Sutra
And have heard scattered narratives
Of Lao Tse and Confucius,
And yet, since my adolescence
I have only been attached to their poetry
Which, like the cypress of Chu-Ko Liang temple,
Has deep, ancient roots.
All three remained silent.
And only Du Fu smiled.

Then we descended the mountain
Sat on a stone seat in a tavern
And ordered a jug of rice wine
With a basket of fragrant lychees.
While a pet cricket
Was silent in his gourd cage,
I recited Du Fu's "Great Wall" poem
For my traveling companion:
"Riding horses, advancing in the blizzard
A pale line of people climb the mountain.
At their posts, they grab dangerous cliffs
Feeling ice sheets under their fingers.
They have left their homelands long ago
And don't know when their forced labor is over.
At sunset, they envy the clouds floating toward the south:
Can these clouds carry our messages back home?"

Finally, from an Uyghur girl peddler,
Who had almond-shaped eyes
Like Afaq, the love of the Persian poet Nezami,
We bought Great Wall t-shirts.
Alas! After the first wash
The wall disappeared
And all of our underwear
Became tinged with a red memory.

The Persian New Year

Let it fill you as if you were a chia pot
And grow like fragrant watercress
Out of your hands.
The New Year will come,
And you will sit
At the cloth of the "seven s's".
You will look in the mirror
And along with the red goldfish
You will be freed
From the confines of the fishbowl.
And you will pass
From the lonely ash tree,
The stately hyacinth,
The anxious garlic,
The drunken vinegar, And the happy silver coin.
And along with the bard of Shirafaz
You will be filled with the sound of love.
And so, why be sad?
When the Thirteenth Day comes
You'll go with the flowing water
And speak to the sky and the earth
Of the beautiful moments of love.

On the Persian New Year, the first day of spring, it is traditional to spread on a cloth seven items, the names of which all begin with the letter sin ("s"). These "seven s's" are typically ash tree, hyacinth, garlic, vinegar, a coin, sprouts (wheat, watercress, or other), and sumac. Other items put on the cloth (not beginning with sin) are a goldfish (in a fishbowl), a mirror, and either a Koran or a copy of Haifez's collected poems. Haifez, the fourteenth century Persian lyricist, is known as 'the bard of Shiraz.' Thirteen days later, people must go hiking and cast their sprouts into a stream.

I Cannot Believe It, Colonel Gaddafi!

Colonel Gaddafi!I cannot believe that before death
They humiliated you with a piece of stick
Only a few months after your rant
That you would march alley by alley
And search house by house
To purge all Libya
Of brave women and men
Who, after years of suppression,
Finally rebelled against you.

From each school of thought
You learned only the worst lesson:
From nationalists, anti-imperialist shows
From populists, hate of individual liberties
And from theocrats, return to the past.

When they took you out
From a drain pipe in Sirte's highway
You begged them and said:
"My sons!
Have mercy on your father."
But they without mercy
Sodomized you with a stick
And ended your era
With three shots.

How painful!
In the last forty-two years
With your torture chambers and henchmen
You did not teach your victims
Any thing else.  

The Empty Place of Eddie

Today the rain washes your blood
And wipes it from the pavement
There remains only your sunny smile,
Your tall baseball bat
Leaning against the wall,
And your backpack full of books
Waiting for your shoulders.

Curse the hand that made the gun
Curse the hand that put it in the shop
And curse the hand that pulled the trigger!

I am cold and empty
Like the shell of a bullet
Because I know that your mother
Will not pass another school again
And will not sit on bleachers
In another baseball game
And will not open her empty oven
To heat fragrant tortillas
For your dinner. 

Eddie Lopez was a Santa Monica High School student. He was gunned down on Tuesday,February 28, 2006 at 26th St. and Pico Blvd.


Some times I see her
Passing by
Wearing a long skirt
She leans on a metal walker
Scratching the ground:

"Sir! What day is today?"
I say: "Jeudi"
And sometimes: "Donnerstag"
Because I know
That Edna had fled Germany
And married in Paris
she passes by me
Like the heavy train of victims
Leaving behind their voices
Out of the reach of time.

Little Armenia

-----in memory of Vazgin Mansourian  

The king hung you like a crucifix
From the neck of my city, Isfahan:
With your cathedral and cobblestones
With your taverns and goldsmiths
And your blushing daughters.

The city remained apart from you
Lying beyond Zaiandeh River.
Only poets of midnight
Knocked at the door of your taverns
And hikers of early morning
Disturbed your trickling spring.
For hundreds of years
We grew apart
Until the canals of Zaiandeh River
Brought our hearts together
And the blood of Vazgin
Flowed into my heart.

Oh, little Armenia!
The tyrants wanted you as a crucifix
But you rose again
Like the crucified Christ.

My Armenian friend, Vazgin Mansourian, was executed in July 1983 in Evin prison, Tehran.He is survived by his son, Narbeh.

In this poem, "Little Armenia" refers to "Jolfa", the Armenian neighborhood in Isfahan. Shah Abbas I (1571-1629) forced Armenians to migrate from their homeland to his capital, Isfahan, Iran.


I cook the black-eyed peas
Until they become soft.
A handful of rice
A few drops of olive oil
One spoon of tomato sauce
A bit of salt and pepper
Green leaves of spinach
And white cloves of garlic
So charmingly asleep
In their bride's veils...
My pottage is ready to simmer.
The room is filled with familiar scents
And I know tonight,
When I walk my son home
He will finish his pottage
And perhaps ask for another bowl.

This poem was one of the eight winning "recipe" poems of a poetry contest called "What's Cookin?" organized by "Writers at Work"and funded by Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department in April 2005. They were published as postcards in an edition of 10000 each and distributed in nearly 300 free postcard racks throughout the Los Angeles area.


Only the sound of the washer remains
And our clothes are losing
Their fragrant nightly memories:
The scent of firewood and wet grass
The stains of wine on your blouse
And the blackberries on my cuffs
The fingertips of morning dew on your shoulders
And the brown mark of earth on my back
Rolling, rolling under the fading stars
And suddenly the big red ball of the sun!

Let it turn around, around
and mingle our clothes together.
Love is stainless
And its clean shirt
Always shines.