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Poetry

At home in diaspora
Or diasporic home

By Manoucher Parvin
December 31, 2003
The Iranian

I am lost only if I am a root,
Scrounging for food in the dark
While croaking the dead word:
"Diaspora, Diaspora, Diaspora."

Fearing for my life
Fearing for my mind
My father with my eager consent
Shipped me out of Iran
On a slow-climbing
Hard-breathing aircraft,
Propelling me to the New World.
I was unaware that my hand waving goodbye
Was also a scythe cutting my roots. So I took root in America,
The land of the free
The home of big sciences and arts,
Big wealth, big poverty, big homicides, and suicides,
Big prisons, and big churches,
Big poisons in the air, in the water, in the food, and big cancer wards,
Big stresses, big pills and big psychiatry wards,
Big double-decker hamburgers, big bellies, and big junk yards,
Big junktornadoes touching minds, even baby minds
Big schools for domesticating people and animals.
Big experts spreading grey lies in the atmosphere, wire, and in the neurosphere,
Beautifying self-righteousness in the eyes--surfing.
Big atom bombs in the hands of petty minds, with silky tongues
Big anxiety, big anxiety, big anxiety--
Creeping on, creeping on.
And I whispered to myself:
" America you are not what I thought you would be, or could be.
America; you are not what you pretend to be.
And America, the other people are not as evil
As you would have us believe."

As years passed and courage began to shine in my head
I declared so loudly that I even frightened myself:
" America strip yourself,
Buck naked
And take a good long look at yourself--
Naked, naked, naked--
In the eyes of the mirror, and the mirror in the eyes
Examine your history, your consciousness, and your intentions.
Tell me the truth: What do you stand for, America?
I still feel the baton blows of your police hammering me down,
On the ground as if I was a cobra, and not a person
Just demonstrating for peace in Vietnam.
America, apologize to Vietnam,
For poisoning it, for burning it, and for raping it.
Be the first empire to confess and to apologize!"

And I still remember
The police beating me up
Back in Teheran,
Blackening my eye.
The innocent eye that questioned
What it saw.
I still remember
The blood running down my face,
The blood that had questioned nothing at all.
I remember, my friend Baback,
His face ripped away by a bullet
Dead as a tombstone
Yet quivering like a fork--a horrid shudder.
Oh, how I do wish to forget my memories
Or bury them in an unmarked grave--
As Baback was buried in an unmarked grave.

I remember a No-Ruz,
A New Year's Day, and the ancestral table laden with symbolic things
Like goldfish, colored-eggs, sprouts, coins, garlic, placed in front of a mirror--
With the fish dancing through it all.
I remember, though it was a long time ago,
When I shocked my parents
Into tears of joy
By reading a newspaper for them
Before I was four.
(My governess and I had conspired to keep my learning a secret.)
Oh, how wonderful were those days--
A new star learning to shine inside my head day after day.

In America, a whole lot of us
Struggled for democracy in Iran.
Those days were the days when dreams--
Became luminous by the power of our convections--
Guiding us, to struggle for human rights,
All over the world.
But the damn KGB
And the damn CIA
Battling like rutting stags
Trampled us with their heavy hooves as if we were ants.
    
Iran was a garden of roses, poets, history, belongings and longings,
(Of course, this is not the whole truth!)
And was maligned by a Shah
Installed by a coup d‚etat
Orchestrated by the damn CIA in the damn year of 1953.
Then, years later in 1979
A revolution un-did the evil deed of the damn CIA,
And toppled the rule of the Shah of CIA
Oh, how uplifting, how jubilant it was:
Liberty, justice, and independence dancing together
Trumpeting happiness in Iran, and for Iran!
Oh, what a vassal of sweet dreams!

I packed my life in a suitcase to run to those dreams coming true,
To offer what I could do for the revolution.
But friends expressed caution
And I listened and hesitated.
And, soon, as sure as existence and death
The turban-wearing hyenas, turned the dreams into nightmares,
Chomped the revolution into pieces
And devoured the pieces
With blood dripping from their whiskers.

As counter revolution fastened its tentacles around Iran
Suffocation became the rule, even inside homes.
Those who said no to mullahs were killed, imprisoned, tortured, or forced into exile.
So, self-blame and self-hate for disposing the Shah
And installing Ayatollah became a chronic malady for the free souls in Iran.I unpacked my suitcase
And packed my new dreams away
And said to myself: "The revolution is dead,
No point attending the funeral."
So instead of returning home, I returned to my sullen soul
And wrote a book called: Cry for My Revolution, Iran.
And I sobbed and I sobbed and I sobbed
As I wrote, as I wrote, and as I wrote
Night after night on a thick pad of paper
Until my tears screamed: "Stop! We are dried up."

Yes, I confess that I cried like a baby
Who had lost his mother, the revolution--
The mother of the newborn Iran, now an orphan Iran.
Oh, what a horrible homicide in the name of God.
Oh, what an indifferent God!
Oh, what a bitter mourning--
Harrowing us to the ends of our lives.
Let me tell you, on the side, that
When I was five years old
I heard an older Christian child whisper 
That besides God, the father, there is a God the Holy Ghost, and a God, the Son.
My father told me the Koran confirms this not.
And soon afterwards I concluded that:
Religions are stories about creation: how, why, and when;
And what one must do, or what one must not do.
They are different from house to house, country to country, and
Different from holy man to holy man
All claiming authenticity, all claiming the truth--
But, none substantiated, none substantiated, and none substantiated
Anymore than the others.
Noah‚s Ark couldn‚t save all the species then, as earth cannot do it now.
So I realized that I cannot put my mind or life
In the hands of ancient tales
Or in the hands of storytellers
Who care for money and power
Far more than they care for me,
For you, for us or for them.
Years later I wrote that:
Religion is about what is good and what is bad
And science is about what is true and what is false.
There are numerous religions, but there is only one science (just about)
And even though Genesis is a tale, or science could be an evil,
Still they are two different artifacts:
Dogma is self-righteous and fixed,
And science is searching and on the march.

Mullahs soon claimed the monopoly of the trinity:
Of values, of truth, and of power.
So they claimed everything, even souls,
As if God bestowed our souls to them, for themselves.
The new fundamentalism was nothing but
A nasty renaissance of ignorance and intolerance.
Let me tell you what I think:
(And please don‚t get mad at me for what I think!)
Religion, and patriotism are software programs
Installed on baby brains, like words are on
Unsuspecting, unsuspecting, unsuspecting,
Unquestioning, unquestioning, unquestioning,
Baby brains.
These programs, stickier than the stickiest glue, are
Difficult to delete, difficult to delete, difficult to delete.
And how tragic: they turn ordinary folks into murderers
Across geography and history
And, most sadly,
Across the future too.

Let us wake up before we can never wake up, and think for ourselves
And let no regime or software think for us.
And let us hope that the future will expose the falsehoods as it did in the past.So I decided that:
In Diaspora in America,
Where a thousand religions are beginning to potluck,
Where the state leaves citizens mostly alone,
I‚d be safer to do discovering and informing, my job, than at home
Where one interpretation of one single ancient book
By one person alone suffocates the spirits of all.
Iran, sorry, I miss you, I love you
But I cannot come back to you.
In America I can barely bear the unbearable
But I can scream:
God is just a word
Just like the idols
It is a means--
To control, to control and to control
The unsuspecting minds!
And if I‚m wrong--and it would not be the first time that I was wrong--
And if a just God lives upstairs, then, He will punish the Mullahs
And accept my apology for my mind going astray!

Their home and jobs confiscated by Mullahs
And their lives endangered,
More, and more Iranians fled Iran to the West--
From where women
Were forced to hide like ghosts
To where women hide nothing unlike ghosts.
From where minds are put to the service of the clergy
To where minds are put to the service of money.
So a troubling unease settled in
My consciousness:
What do I do now?
Now that the revolution is murdered.
Live in exile? Live in opposition until death?
Do not ask me why and how
I savor the unforgettable taste of Iran,
The white mulberries and the great discoveries in Iran.
Do not ask me how I see myriad shades of Persian blues
Or feel the dazzling colors of love,
Or experience the luminosity of truth.
Do not ask me how a bundle of atoms--me--
Falls in love with a bundle of atoms--you--
And tries to Dardedel with you--
Electronically!
Don't ask me why, or how atoms--me--
Remain attached to music, poems, feelings, memories,
All immaterial things,
Or snow covered mountains, and bare mountains
And a little fig tree with a big smile
Altogether looking like a cat on a map called Iran.
Do not ask me about the mystery of the brain or the mind
The consciousness, the subconscious
The most complex problematic known--
To be so unknown.
I confess I know not,
Though the God of Abraham commands me to know myself
While failing to show me how.
Oh, yes, and yes and yes,
God, you make us lemons
But you command us to be persimmons
That is a tall order my God jaan!
God I beg of you to control your quality control.

People of turbans,
Listen to me.
Bring your God down to earth,
The God that speaks to you, but to no one else.
Let your God apologize to your victims,
And ask for forgiveness
For all the crimes that you have
Perpetrated in His name.
(Oh, you see how my mood swings as I Dardedel with you!)
This God of yours
Has some explaining to do
For acting like an absolute despot,
Consulting no one
Even about one‚s birth
Into this world of untold, unbearable undesirables,
Or one‚s death into terrifying possibilities,
As if life itself is not a manifestation of terrifying possibilities.
He has some explaining to do
For the existence of the Islamic Republic and other disasters or diseases,
For creating us so imperfect
Yet commanding us to be perfect.
He has some explaining to do
For threatening us with perpetual fires of hell,
Just for questioning His questionable judgments.
I want to come face to face with you, God,
And if you answer my questions
I will give you a big hug, and a big kiss, on your big cheek,
As big as Your imagination
As big as Your intellect!
And you, the Islamic Republic,
Tell me, if your God did wish me
To listen to you and not to listen to my mind
Why then, did He give me my mind?
The mind that accuses you and rejects you!
I am interested in truth, Islamic republic, what are you interested in?
I am interested in the will of the people, what are you interested in?
And you, the Islamic Republic, will put me to death
If I declare that praying five times a day--
Repeating the same exact words
Time and time again and again
Is nothing but self-indoctrination
Self-indoctrination, self-indoctrination, self-indoctrination, self indoctrination,
Reinforcing the initial indoctrination-programming
Of the un-provable, and the unsustainable!
I refuse self-indoctrination
Not five times a day, not even once in my lifetime--
Though I am spiritual and do meditate every day.

Oh how dreadful
To go home and be treated
Like a beast, and forced to creep and sleep in a slaughter house
Instead of a bed of belongingness--
Waiting, waiting, waiting--in horror
For a Mullah to decide about your life
As if it was not yours, but his own cow‚s!
But I was not born a beast.
My birth certificate states that
I'm a Person, born in Iran.
Well, the Islamic Republic,
If I'm any kind of beast at all,
Then I am a frightened chicken
Taking flight
To Diaspora!
Home is not where
One is coerced to think:
I can exist only if I can be someone else!
So to visit home and to survive
Some Iranians take their bodies home
While leaving their minds behind
But then who has gone home--
If the mind and body are split or personal sovereignty is fractured?
And so I stay in America, "the land of the free."
But I also have to dissimulate, with boiling frustration, in the land of the free--
Especially since the tragedy of September 11th
So with my hands covering my ears I scream: "Damn our times!"
But it is never as bad in America as it is under the Mullah‚s rule.
I miss an imagined perfect lover.
I miss an imagined home--
Which blossoms with essences of love
Out of the grave of my dissimulations.
So all is not so rosy in America either
Where some people believe
That truth resides under the Pope's white cap
Or hidden behind the ministers' collar
Or is dropping in the tears of the evangelists
Or is declared by  TV anchorpersons, or magic ads
Or wrapped inside the infinite interpretation
Of  holy books, or science books,
Or is to be found in astrology charts, self-help books, magazines,
Or in the Presidents' pronouncements
Oh, those pronouncements
That make an ordinary lie run away in distress!
My Persian friends, exemplary citizens in America,
Complain that
They miss Iran, and they miss Iran, and they miss Iran,
That they are not really happy in their Diaspora.
But here in America
They speak, eat, dance Persian,
Own cats, rugs, books and memories Persian,
Watch TV, movies, plays, and read news in Persian,
Bring up their children fractionally Persian,
Die in America, but mourn in Persian,
As if they were in Iran
And yet complain in Persian
For not being in Iran,
While refusing to return to Iran!
Let me whisper to you if you promise not to get angry with me:
" Are we not At Home in Diaspora?
We are not the tragically dispersed Jews of the six century B.C.,
To whom the word Diaspora refers to.
If we count the things in Iran that we miss in America
They amount to far less than what Jews lost when they were in Diaspora."

So I ask again: What Diaspora? Whose Diaspora? How is Diaspora?
The old concept Diaspora isn‚t quite relevant in the Global Village of today.
Our life in America is only a hint of the old Diasporic dispersion!
There existed no jet, internet, radio, satellite-dish or freedom when Diaspora emerged.
Our Diaspora is a diluted, an obsolescent, a pseudo, or vanishing Diaspora;
(It is difficult to compare the nature and the extent of our Diaspora with that of the past.)
We must invent a new term like Diasporic Home for our situation
And how strange it is that you chose Diaspora,
But, Diaspora did not choose you.
Your heart is broken, but life is constantly breaking hearts.
Let love set you on fire, or let love set the world on fire as Hafez said!
And I hear that the Islamic Republic, out of fear for its own survival,
Is not as brutal as it used to be.
So what are you waiting for, and do you just prefer to be waiting?
I trumpet again: "Are we not at home in Diaspora, or Diasporic Home."Yes, we exiles are afflicted with a mental disease--
A mild case of cultural schizophrenia--
Because we think, write, and complain about
An ancient version of Diaspora that no longer exist
And because we imagine an Iran
That did not exist,
That does not exist
And not soon will exist--
Except in our hallucinations.
Yes, hallucinations about the same country,
But different hallucinations in different minds!
And we pick at each other like industrial chickens cooped up for death.
Oh my! Oh my!
The real Iran is the one we left far behind
But still is, a TV or computer click or a plane ticket away--remember!
So why are we waiting?
Or what are we waiting for?
Or how long waiting is waiting enough?
Would we wish to raise our children
Under the mullahs‚ rule?
Or Uncle Sam‚s rule?
I‚ve made up my mind, if you have not yet, then,
Take a cold shower
Take a cold shower
To rinse your contradictions away!
And I‚m not saying we must abandon struggle for democracy in Iran
I‚m not even saying we must abandon our hallucinations.
So I pose this question:
To the people claiming to be in Diaspora.
Where is Diaspora? Where is home?
What is the extent of our belongingness to Iran, to America?
Hearing no replies
I answer my own question:
" Are we not at home in Diaspora?"
Then suddenly I hear complains about what we miss
But we still do not wish to return to what we miss,
For the fear of losing what we do not miss--
Which is this pseudo-Diaspora
A strange human condition indeed!
Contradiction and confusion
Wrapped in the colors of sentiments!

Again, I think deep, and delve deep into myself
Uniting the truth within with the truth without.
To my sorrow I see Persian as a single matchstick in America,
Struck alight once and burning down quickly to the very end.
Would our grandchildren write and read Persian?
I sympathize with your despair--
For the disappearance of Persian heritage in America.
But worry not too much, remember, Iran will never disappear--ever
Persian heritage is safe in Iran!
True, in America, "the land of the free"
I can drink, eat, read, write and say what I want--almost--
And watch a thousand rented minds on TV telling me
What to believe,
And what to buy
And whom to hate.
I'll tell you, my friends, what is happening on TV:
They are selling you the system on TV
And they are selling you what the system makes, on TV.
That is what is happening on TV!
Come on America!
I am tired of poisons, delusions, fractional lies and omissions
On TV, on TV, on TV.
America, I ran from the Shah and the Ayatollah
To you, my asylum
Please do not make yourself my insane asylum
America, I chose you with my eyes open--
As opposed to blindfolded birth--
America, I love you
But have some reservations about you.
You are tearing my spirit apart
And I cannot show you the hurt!
Look into my eyes, America
I cannot show you my hurt.
I wish I could
Delete, Delete, Delete
The things that make you appear ugly, America.

At times, when I feel nails hammered into my skull--
Nails hammered into my unsaid words--
And feel frustrated, and deranged,
I wish I had a giant garlic crusher
And could put
All the disagreeable thoughts, feelings, and things in it
And squish!
(Again I show you my temper, a shortcoming of mine among others.
Remember this is Dardedel. Hear it with understanding, do not judge me!)

You, may protest: "Parvin, you complain and complain, criticizing everything."
"You are right, but, remember, I am a social-scientist too.
It is my duty to diagnose the social ills, and inform--
Just like a physician who must diagnose diseases, and inform,
Even if the only news is that death is the news!"
( Now I feel a bit better because I‚ve Dardedeled with you. You are so patient with me!)
Oh, those enchanting days
When everything seemed to be so good and true.
I remember my hand in my father‚s hand
At the foot of magnificent mount Damavand,
Fire in its heart, holding the turquoise dome above.
I remember the cold, pure, tasty
Waters of spring streaming downhill
Off its brilliant conic snowy peak
Nourishing the wild flowers--
Stitching them into a skirt of rainbow
Seducing the whimsical wind, the wild lover
Giving always one kiss and then running away with a thousand unsaid goodbyes.
I remember a donkey
Imagining itself to be the great Persian singer Dardashti
Singing along with honey bees and sweet canaries
In an opera
Composed and orchestrated by nature
Now inviting the departed souls like us
To return home and dance, and dance, and dance
Until we fall dead,
While celebrating dreams already dead.
I am, and I am not, in Diaspora,
I am, and I am not, at home,
No, no, there is no problem of identity crisis
Yes, yes, the problem is to identify the crisis.
Since possibilities are independent of us
Then we have a crisis of wishes:
We wish more capable leaders for America and Iran
So the two peoples could become free to embrace
So we can become really free.

I work in sciences,
I write stories and compose poems
About Iran in English,
Yes, English is now my umbilical cord to Iran
To the world, too,
My umbilical cord to the future
And a little window for the world to see Iran.
How strange!
So who am I?
So where am I?
My old illusions dardedel with me about their fate:
What my life could have been, should have been, will be
Without monsters having warped history.
But, now, we find ourselves more at home in Diaspora
Enriching the American culture, and the world culture with Persian culture--
As Parsi did, and are doing in India. But, no matter where I live, I'm me
And the world is my home.
I am a Persian, I am an American,
I'm a citizen of the universe
Of space-time, of evolution, of history.
I‚ve many homes, many identities,
Some known, some unknown
All screaming for recognition inside me,
Oh yes, and yes and yes,
I am in Diaspora everywhere
And I am in Diaspora nowhere
I am at home everywhere
And I am at home nowhere
No religion, nationality, or race
Language, or ideology, or culture
Will disjoin me from my family.
Yes, and yes, and yes,
My family is you, is them,
My family is life in every place and in every shape:
The sad elephant and the happy monkey,
Every plant, fish, bird, is my family.

Yes and yes, and yes,
My family is every soul riding the carousel around the sun
Even the soul of the dead thinkers who fathered my mind are my family!
Oh, yes there is a bit of someone else in us all
I dardedel with cousins I‚ve never met
They live in the Andromeda Galaxy--
The next door neighbor of our Milky Way Galaxy
They may not know, but I am thinking of them--
Yes I am, now I am!

Now that I think of death
I miss my ultimate home--death--
My thoughts and my feelings dovetail into an ecstasy--palpitating.
I‚ll try to live with dignity.
I‚ll try to die with dignity.
I am not lost no matter where I live.
I‚m not lost no matter where I die.
I am not lost no matter where I go
After I am gone.
Maybe I should return to Iran
To die!
Is not the waiting for death shorter there?
Less bitter than in America
Where machines threaten to sustain me against my will,
Threaten to torture me to a prolonged bitter end--
So that an owner of a big boat can buy a bigger boat?

From this Global Village where I live
And from the Global Ideas and Global Consciousness
Which both comfort me and confuse me
I shall journey to a Global Unconsciousness,
And become a buzz of dispersing atoms ˆ
Neither conscious of themselves,
Or where they come from, me,
Or what they no longer are-- not me.
Unconsciousness was my first home and will be my last home.
Diaspora, is just a transitory homelessness--
A scribble on the colorless boundless time--
A scribble on the luminous boundless space
A scribble on a homeless gust of wind
That I once was, and will never be again.
I shall return to my real home--
Beyond the final crushing note of the symphony of death
Where at last my earthly Diaspora ends
And my eternal Diaspora begins.

This poem will be published in a collection Called: The Cosmological Accent. No part of the poem At Home in Diaspora is to be re-produced, or translated without prior written consent of the author, Manoucher Parvin.

Poet

Professor Manoucher Parvin has published novels, poems, and short stories and numerous works in various sciences. His latest book is a novel-in-verse entitled:  Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez, and Love in New York; published by The Permanent Press. New prints of Parvin‚s previously published novels: Cry for my Revolution, Iran, and Avicenna and I: The journey of spirits are forthcoming. Professor Parvin has served as President of two international organizations and TV and radio commentator here and abroad and has been on the editorial board of several scholarly journals. He has lectured in many countries of the world.

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