Vida Kazemi: In Tehran

1. The Street

Is teeming with men,
men on stools in front of shops
counting worries with beads,
men in white undershirts, holding hoses
to wash the smut of smog off dented cars,
men whose eyes fix on my ankles:

Here comes a young woman
in a black Chanel coat, translucent
burgundy scarf, crimson toenails.
Brown eyes lined with kohl,
she could be Shahrzaad.
I falter as she walks by:                                                                
I nearly fell admiring your beauty.
Are you not afraid of the guards?
She turns: If we hadn’t taken to the streets,
they would have us under black chadors.
Here, my drab garb, there, her elegant ease.

2. At the green grocer’s

Women draped in black,
women in tights and short dresses          
vie for his attention
A young woman in leggings pleads:
I need a kilo of kiwi. I have guests coming.       
Go fix your Hijab first
interrupts one in Islamic garb.                
How insolent! Mind your own business!
replies the one in leggings.

The greengrocer intervenes:
Mother. sister, calm down.
God would not be pleased.
Walking on, my hopes for ease dissolve                   
in wash water flowing in the gutter.

3. I hail a taxi

The driver plays Persian rap
complains about the mullahs, the economy,
tells his dream of moving to Baltimore
where his brother lives.

Same evening, different taxi,
with my half-American son.                                               
On the mirror, an uneasy driver.                       
Afraid to speak English, my son
greets him in his few words of Farsi
before our silent ride home.

4. I long for the jubilant air

during the “Spring of Freedom”
magazines, newspapers, sprouting,
relatives talking over each other:
Tell us about the new constitution!
Finally, real elections!
I hope the president won’t be a mullah.

But, for years now, on each return
my heart flutters in its cage—
fear nurtured by absence
grows in me, as the bearded guard asks:                    
Do you have an American passport?
And on each departure,
limbs chilled, muscles contracted
I wonder:
Will they let me leave?                                                

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