a poem by Ziba Karbassi


early morning star 
	are you here with 
		your star-gaze gone ? 
little wren 
	are you staying in the rocks 
		when you go to the skies ? 
tiny silver coin 
        are you coming up heads 
	      when you collapse to tails ? 
my always-greening pine 
	is it winter when it's spring, 
			will you tell me ? 

your sisters are here
	and your brother too 
		and I am here but 
where are you ? 
		are you ? 
why don't you ? 
why don't you 
	come and see 
		the red little shoe I am knitting 
				for the 
			apple of my closing eye ? 

and from the petals 
		of my heart 
the red little shift 
	I am making 
and from his deepest bones 
	the cradle that your brother's 
		baby roe deer, just 
			for you, 
and from their hair 
	pillows that your 
		weaving sisters 
everyone today is looking at me kindly 
they are looking at me with coloured eyes 
and their shy withheld charities 
	are killing me and are 
		making me

    little baby roe 
everyone is here excepting you 
who the flower meadows of my broken  
		mind are craving  

and I want to make of my holding  
arms a hunter's pit 
		for you 
so you would never 
		ever leave 
			your mother 

what am I saying 
		little baby roe deer : 
	I don't want anything, anything 
				at all 
I want you to always be free and to go 
		wherever you will 
to sit by with whoever you choose 
	my free-flying bird, 
		    my up-startled  
	    baby roe deer of the white and 
			running feet 

everyone is here,  
	everyone, but who 
I do not want 
			to see 
	but who I do not 
			want : no one 
	not anyone, 
		excepting you, 
			     only you
I want to see 
		who is not here 

why doesn't anyone say anything 
		any more 
why is no-one talking at all to me 
such silences are sharp needles 
		      to bite me 
and to knife me through my heart 
such silence is 
	the deepest scar 
			of my body 
and you are not coming 
	and the sadness 
is a cloudburst 
and I am not a scaffold to be toppled 
not a felled tree to be sunk in the flood 
I am only a bag of bones and skin 
		smashed about  
and the only thing left of me is the tiny
	        scared beast of my heart 
that quite simply 
	does not believe 
		that this flood 
			has taken you  

and look 
this is the sun shining 
	and this the white lily you used 
		to pour away its water 
and this the red little fish 
	that last night a neighbour's 
		cat broke the bowl 
      that I wish is no harsh omen   
and this the small flower-edged scarf 
	you bought for me last 
		New Year 
and this your notebook 
		that always was half
and when I was closing it 
	a star jerked out 
		and pierced the throat 
			of my speech 
and the word-route of my inspiration 
		closed up forever  

last night wolves were howling 
	   I heard their voices 
		last night 
they brought me your torn clothes 
the blue shirt your auntie made you 
I wish her dear hand had been 
your blue shirt is red with blood 
and I cannot make out its print   
		or pattern 

they said their skirts were filled with stones 
their hands were full of stones, their skirts 
everywhere stones were being rained down 
	the world was become a world 
			of stone 

I wish 
I wish 
I wish 
     your mother were dead 
			I wish I were 

your sisters' skirts 
are full with blood 
your brother is burning 
	the cradle of wood, can't you 
		smell the smoke ? 
look, I am not 
		scared any more 
the wolf of my fear is hunted 
		by the tiger 
			of my venom 
and I've become a fire monster  
	if I open up my mouth
		the whole earth will 

I was the out-breath 
		you were the in 
now these words are only words 
now my breathing 
		is hardly half-done 

            of me 
there is no inspiration of reply 
	there is no in reply 
		there is no 
because you are not here now 
	and because you will 
		never now 

	I know 

and everything 
	like my breathing 
		will stay half-done 

and will stay like that 
	until the earth brings you 
		if ever back to 
		      the fullness 
			of my arms 

(tr. Stephen Watts & Ziba Karbassi)

Note : this poem is in the voice of the mother - by turn anguished, loving, and crazed - of a young and pregnant woman taken to prison and tortured and then stoned to death : from an incident in the mid 1980's close to the poet's family. Ziba Karbassi was born in Tabriz in northwestern Iran in 1973 and has lived in asylum & exile in London since 1989. She has published four books of poetry in Persian and has given readings of her work throughout Europe. Stephen Watts and Ziba Karbassi are working together on a bilingual selection of both their poetries for joint-publication. (tr. Stephen Watts & Ziba Karbassi)