Vida Kazemi


How shall I put it in words
when words recede and disappear
like dreams, rendering fruitless
my efforts?

You think I look the same, but
I have changed in ways
invisible from where you stand.
My brain has dried
hardened into a rock
through gradual sedimentation.
I am now part of a seawall.

Did you know that I could recite
some twenty or thirty Hafiz
poems by heart? Now
some memories are fossilized,
some etched like hieroglyphs,
others grown faint, with
the smashing of the tide.

You may not want to know
how familiar streets can seem
foreign,  my daily losses,
not just of keys.

You might tell me
I have the same problem.
It happens to everyone with age.
give an example of your own,
as if our paths were one.
The land between us divides.
Fog rises and blurs my view.

I want to tell you
this rock is mostly bare.
Still – between the jagged points,
grow sea grapes
grow ferns,
forming a sea garden
on a seawall.

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?

Vida Kazemi                               

Vida Kazemi was born in Tehran. She first came to the US as a student years before the Revolution, and has spent most of her life here. However, she visits Iran regularly to see family. She is a psychologist in private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has studied poetry with Barbara Hyett Helfgott and for the last six years with Suzanne Berger and visiting poets such as Mark Doty and David Ferry.