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Poetry

Ode to nothingness

 

Goli Farrell
May 14, 2005
iranian.com

Three poems

* Ode to Nothingness, to HEECH
Or "The Love Song of Tehran University"

* Open windows
* I have had a...

I wrote this for my class-mates, Tehran University alumni, on the occasion of our 25th class reunion. It is a homage to our many favorite poets and writers among them Mowlana Rumi, Sepehri, and T.S. Eliot.

Ode to Nothingness, to HEECH
Or "The Love Song of Tehran University"

Let us go then, you and I
Down that half deserted street
where you had once
such a vision of the street
as the street hardly understood

Between poetry and the world
Starting with Hera in Mount Olympus
-- Also known as Adabiyyat -- [1]
Jumping up and down on the Podium,
demonstrating to us forever
the rhythmic motions
of the Iambic Pentameter:

If it were now to die, it were now to be most happy (Othello)
or: Never, never, never, never, never (King Lear)

Between Anatol France Ave. and Blank Verse
Let us go then, you and I
down memory lane
(or shall I say ex-memory lane
has another name now
it's called Alzheimer's lane)

Turning left on Posht e Daneshgah[2], by Pezeshki[3]
Between poetry and the world
we walked on air
On nothing, light as a feather, a leaf on water, dancing softly
and sometimes, dancing like crazy,
whirling round and round
in a frenzy, "charkh charkh abbasi"[4]
in real ecstasy

So in love with Love were we,

and so in love with us was Love
that we walked on air,
ecstatic, "nakhorde mast"
high, flying and trying to define
"epiphany"
according to Stephen's definition
of the word:
A sudden spiritual manifestation.

And the professor's contagious attachment
to the Artist as a young man
and his generous contributions
and encouragements in the form
of the best possible edition of the Divan of Hafez[5]
and Haiku poetry
set our minds on fire
we hung upon every word
as if our life depended on it
and in a way it did.

"We shall not cease from exploration [6]
and the end of all our exploring... will be to arrive"...
... walking on air, on nothing
nothingness being what it is
for us Persians: tangible, a real thing (heech),
has a free standing, independent,
bona fide name of its own:
"Heech"
having nothing to do with "no" nor with "thing",
in fact nothing to do with negation at all)

the silence between the notes
that makes the music

having been brought up on Hafez, Nezami, Rumi [7]
and that ineffable Sunshine from Tabriz,
Shams,
The subject of the world's greatest love poem ever:

Rumi's Divan of Shams-e-Tabrizi,

we walked on air, on nothing
high, intoxicated without any visible intoxicant (mokhadder),[8]
our addictive substance being
Art, poetry, youth, love
and how we tried to define that word: love
We were all of us young Artists, poets,
Rumis looking for that magical encounter
to put our imaginations on fire
looking for tools to paint the ultimate portrait
under Lord Henry's watchful gaze.[9]

Meanwhile at Mount Olympus
Jupiter aka Zeus Souratgar [10] held court
in those beloved, sacred, packed auditoriums
Where that great, tall Golestani once walked in
with a giant Chrysanthemum
in his lapel
we laughed and the giant yellow chrysanthemum
was forever etched into our collective memories
as we made mental mandalas
of Jung's collective unconscious
and Zeus told (I never found out to whom?):
Leave her (that one)[11] alone. Won't do for your tonight!

"With all my madness,"
says the Sunshine of Tabriz,
"I have overcome, 'urned'
many a wise man.
With all my ignorance
I have taken under my wings,
Supported,
Many a learned man.
Inside me, are glad tidings
Harbingers,
And a promise, as if I were flying,
Not on earth, not of earth"

Ecstasy was a real thing to us
tangible and in daily use
not the powder
but the real thing.

You said: "life is an apple
you have to bite it
Skin and all"
quoting Sohrab Sepehri [12]
and I countered with Forough: [13]
"I will plant my hands in the flower-bed
and I will grow, sprout
green sprouts,
I know it, I know it, I know it

And in this verse, I will graft your name
to the tree, to the water
and to the fire"
Zarathustra's holy fire
will take your name
to the dawn of eternal growing, blooming
blossoming... "

"breeding lilacs out of the dead land". [14]

After they changed the main gate [15]

And after Forough died of that "accident"
I decided to leave.
Life is cheap there,
Woman's life is even cheaper,
Artist woman's life is in mortal danger.
Rabe'e ye Ghozdari [16]
and now Forough.
the greater the talent, the greater the danger
I might be protected by lack of talent
lack of a voice, better get out
or "keep quiet, be safe" says grandmother
"gorkhuli baash salaamat oli" [17]

father wants me to become a great writer
with great powers of persuasion
and in his stead to convert, by the sheer force of my pen,
everyone to socialism
(convinced socialist that he was,
did time in political prison, for being in Tudeh Party
I have a photo of me as a two year old in his lap
in his prison cell. Later he died of a broken heart,
Hercules/ Rostam that he was,
died of a broken heart
at the fall of socialism. In the prison photo
He looks like JFK Jr.)
I had to become a writer.
"There is no substitute for hard work." [18]

the one and only copy

But Forough Farrokhzad died
grandmother said: shut up, be quiet, safe
get married, obey your husband,
spoil him like crazy
in every possible way–made no bones about it either--
and obey him in all matters except one:
no heavy lifting. even if he tells you to.
Otherwise, make him feel like the king of the house'

don't question him where he goes, when he comes,
wash his feet with rose water,
massage him with aromatic oils,
but no heavy lifting. Period.
Grandmother thought it would render you infertile
even pegging out laundry, or stretching too much!
Would render you infertile. For her
there was nothing worse than infertility.

I wonder if she thought the same way at 85?
I have strong doubts.
Children are cute and lovely,
But no good when you are 85.

Meanwhile in Mount Olympus
Some taught us Shakespeare(Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Sonnets, the works)
Some Hafez, Nezami, Rumi,
Vahshi e Bafeqi, Sa'di [19]
some James Joyce, Shelly
the Brontes, Keats, Byron,
Thackery...and of course Wilde.
"A cigarette is the perfect type of pleasure:
it is exquisite, and leaves you unsatisfied"
... and others the Prisoner of Zenda
All men of course,
with the exception of Mrs. Souratgar
and Simin who had by some miracle
broken the glass ceiling, and told us those daring stories
of art history and Pompey, its fine arts.

Be quiet, anonymous, safe- don't stick out your neck
don't let your head smell of ghorme-sabzi
just have it for lunch at Honarha.(Fine Arts Faculty)
father looked wonderful but was in political prison
keep quiet, don't stick out your neck
have children, enjoy yourself, be safe
head that has fear will be safe
no smell of ghorme-sabzi (aromatic Persian meal)
except for lunch in Honarha, with lubia [20] (rhymes with Julia), Pepsi

On the expanse of the moon [21]
we had the golden apples of the sun
and the silver apples of the moon. The center cannot hold
The second coming.
We suffered with Yeates for Maude Gonne,
Stephen and Molly Bloom
In those Hellish days of Monsieur Ayaz,
King Mahmood's beloved Ayaz

wanting to shout with joy in the town square
looking for the one that could not be found.
Having had enough of the whining and the wailing
And the Pharaohs
We longed for the Lion of God, and Rostam e Dastan

and the shining face of Moses
of Omran.
Without you, by Jove, this town is prison to me
I long to vagabond the mountain tops, listen to the silence
of the desert of Sahara
I am more eloquent than the nightingale and yet
Fear of the jealous commoners has put a seal on my mouth
While I long to scream

Although I am poor, will not settle for such small gems
I long for the entirety of the mine
of that rare precious ruby mine.
The chalice of wine in one hand and in the other
the braided locks of my beloved
Such a danse in the midst
of the town square,
that is what I long for.

I am the Sitar (robab) of love and my lover
is the sitar player,
I long for those master strokes
from my beloved sitar player.

And the silence between the notes
that is what I long for.

Show your beloved face from the east, you proud sunshine of Tabriz

I am Hodhod, (hoopoe) and the presence of, nay
an audience with Solomon,
that is what I long for.

High on the real thing,
We had our private Woodstock
and our own secret addictive substance
invisible, but the real thing.

Between the space of Fine arts
and Olum (Sciences)
between Polytech and Pharmacy
high
on the real thing
While the hippies sniffed, smoked, and injected.

We were in love with love itself
and had in our youthful passion for poetry
and our poetry for passion
woven such colorful, complex,
and all encompassing network
of main hubs--- Shams, Rumi,Hafez,Sa'di,
Orpheus, Forough, Sepehri
Zeus, Hera , neighbouring fine arts faculty,
where we ate Ghorme-sabzi-au-riz
plus sangak bread and Pepsi
for rials:five and thirty!

---And secondary hubs
of lesser gods, demi-gods
and godesses( being rare and far in between
with the solo exception of Simeen
in whose art history (artistry) class we devoured every word
while her beloved sat at the back
to give her inspiration,

and Farahvashi's Avesta class: "Ahura Mazda protect this land
from drought and lies"
--that the passionate-poetic complexity
of the network led to misunderstandings
of misunderstandings
of misunderstandings
"that is not what I meant at all
that is not it at all."
they took us for maniacs

nympho and otherwise

while we got distracted
from distraction
by distraction... at poetry readings
we looked with such longing
so happy, ecstatic,
they all misunderstood: Othello, Hamlet, Cupid, Psyche... all
... that is not what I meant at all
When you measure your life with coffee spoons
it takes longer
gives you time and space
cyber and otherwise,
between two doors that open and shut

no wonder we took to Beckett
like ducks to water
in all of the Oxidant
Beckett is the one who nearly got the point
no wonder he was so popular in Iran
He talked about a popular topic:
the qualities
colors,
and variations
and quantities
of nothingness.
and we waited
and waited
not for Godot so much
But for our Sunshine of Tabriz

nothing is more inspiring than a deadline.

Didi: what is this?
Gogo: It is a weeping willow.
Didi: So where is the weeping?
Here, here since last night i have been weeping
nonstop. No willow but plenty of weeping
weeeeeping
Let us sit upon the ground
and tell sad stories about the death of kings
and about the blitzkrieg
in my sister's eye
Doctor said it is..(long German word, line and a half long) ...
Took me two agonizing days to find it
looked it up in various dictionaries
these dear bound spaces
that have served as homes away from home
since I was fifteen.
In English it means: retinal detachment
vital detachment, from life itself
a serious and increasingly cherished solution
This nice hotel maybe as good a place as any
detach from life's agony
agony-detachment-retinal
don't want retinal detachment
better a clean quick parting
sounds better"parting"
neither me nor my sister
just regular detachment
not retinal at all
depend on her for everything
always have. Nothingness is something
"Death is a reward, not a punishment"
read somewhere,... a deadline

Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain

High on poetry
as only Persians can be
(reading Hafez, Sa'di, Nezami, Rumi in the original Persian)
we suffered with Yeates
When Maude Gonne married
that other guy, officer or something
and with J. Alfred Prufrock
Kathrine and Heathcliff, Cybil Vane and her brother,

we dwelt on every word
of our god-like professors
and tried to find their equivalents
in Edith Hamilton's: Mythology
and treaded on Olympus
gathering our rosebuds, while we could
on the expanse of the moon
The golden apples of the sun
the silver apples of the moon
must bite it
skin and all

sometimes we even found our own equivalents
chez Edith Hamilton
among the demi-gods!
Helen of troy, Paris, Agamemnon, Eodipus rex
Morning became Electra (and brother? Orestes)
Pygmalions, looking for all manner of Galathea
Galatheas, looking for all manner of Pygmalion
and all shall be well and
all manner of thing shall be well
On the expansiveness of the moon

we spread out
at the annual picnic
you took care of Jean, my American sister
Connie, visiting Tehran,
and Brooke and Malcolm Von Gonabad
de Baltimore,
He being Persian all right
But his wife must be Rashti.

Yes those were the days my friend
We thought they'd never end
we'd sing and dance forever and a day
And... all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

Father believed in the power of self
suggestion "talqiin"
Affirmations ... all shall be well and
... for now

These are the good old days

These are the good old days
While we are trying to become
Fabulous old ladies
And gentlemen, with the accent
on "gentle"
gentleness and tenderness now
being the oil that allows
the machinery of life(specially at old age)
run smoothly, gently
"When we have fears that we may cease to be
Before our pen has glean'd... on the shore
Of the wild world I stand alone and think
till love...and fame to nothingness do sink."

Nothingness being what it is,
What it was for us then,
we walked on it, on air
down Anatol France Ave.
which used to flank the eastern wall
of that dear symmetrical campus
of that dear magical rectangle
that was Tehran University
"love is less kind than the grey twilight
and hope is less dear than the dew of the morn"

Beckett got the point of nothingness
that is what endeared him to us so
way before he got the Nobel prize
for literature. The waiting, the longing,
the thirst
Thirst that Rumi tells us to seek:
Seek less the water
get a hold of thirst itself.

Between Takhte Jamshid and Iambic Pentameter
We walked on air, on nothing at all
we were mythological
bursting out of our skin
so charged, so wound up we were
intoxicated, high
addicted to poetry, we lived on it
off of it
In love with poetry,
they thought we were
in love with them

we were in the buses and the taxis
or walking, but not really there
or too much there
"Inside a mountain, outside a straw"
not on earth... as if flying
mythological...

and let it not be forgot
that once there was a spot, a shining beam of light...

Then they changed
that old lovely simple symmetrical main gate
of the University
and replaced it by that modern monster
which change was a harbinger
of other changes to come
Anatol France has another name now
could not recognize it
when it is not necessary to change,
It is necessary NOT to change.

"This wound will not grow old, I know it"
Said Bahram

Let us go then down this forgotten, half deserted street
where you had such a vision of the street
as the street hardly understands,
has amnesia
has another name
straight down Mostaqim e sabeq
yes let us go and make our visit.

There will be time , there will be time yet
For a hundred indecisions,
and a hundred visions
and revisions
There will be time
to seek in the valley
some cool friendly spring
in Darake, haft ho'ze, Karaj
down to the river, through the line of poplars

I have left chapters of my soul
In Perkins library, Duke University
--(catalogued their rare books room; among other treasures

they have a 600 year old Divan of Hafez e Shirazi
and a very old but symbolically
dateless Maqalat of Shams e Tabrizi
in manuscript, of course)

--The prologue and dedication page, however,
vagabond the old Faculty of Letters, the library
and some surrounding side streets
of Tehran University.

Some later chapters, plus a short corrigendum,
are at the Tabriz Bazaar, between spice merchants and the rugs
woven into those exquisite color combinations,
mahi and paisley designs.
--the epilogue is pending--

In search of the middle chapters
I have vagabonded the earth
frequented language labs
and after trying hard, and many times
diligently,
Monsieur Guex the lab instructor said:
Mademoiselle Irani vous etes merveilleuse
and that took care of my vowels in french
The way to the heart of Parisiens
is through their vowels.
If you can parrot correctly
delicieusement orgueuilleux!
You are home free.

Yes,
Those were the days my friend
we thought they'd never end
we'd sing and dance forever and a day
then we sang and danced a la Hera in Olympus
all over all possible Iambic pentameters
sometimes with help from airplanes
sometimes just singing and dancing and prancing
All over the nuances of syntax, of all possible rhetorical questions,

"How should I presume?
And how should I begin?"
until we came to be

fabulous, rhetorical old ladies
and mythological gentlemen these days
that we intend to survive
and later call these the good old days
these are the good old days...
Mythological, all

I have gone back at dusk
through all those streets
all rhetorical streets now
all Iambic pentameters
all blanc verse
rhyme is not necessary now
but reason is.

I have gone through them all
At dusk, at dawn
"through certain half-deserted streets...
... known them all already, known them all"
do I dare, do I dare?
All rhetorical now
All ex-Iambic Octameters, now
If there could ever be a "going back"

there will be time indeed
for a hundred Iambic pentametering a la Hera
thru all possible rhetorical streets
of all continents
"the world is my home"
says Nima Yushij.
If
I had world enough and time
for a hundred revisions

Madame Sosostris caught up with us at last
here is your card:
I see crowds of people, walking in a ring
charkh charkh abbasi
"I had not thought death had undone so many"
and here, this card, which is blanc,
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled"
... something heavy... he carries on his lips
Which I am forbidden to see."
I am a hoopoe (hod hod)
wanting to shout with joy

In the town square, on Karaj dam
have a lock on my lips
while I long to scream...

In this verse I have sighed you, sighed
I have grafted your name
to the dawn
of eternal growth,
blooming, blossoming
To the aurora
Of eternal flowering
D'une vie heureuse,
epanouie"

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, in safe, cozy
forgetfulness...
... the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this Sun of... Tabriz

Yes
Indeed there will be time... my friend
for... those
were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end
we'd butterfly our way through Jacques Prevert,
Guillaume Appolinaire,

Sous le pont Mitabeau, coule la Seine
et nos amours
faut-t-il qu'il m'en souvienne
La joie venait toujours après la peine

And hopscotch our way
over all the streams
of consciousness
of Mrs. Dalloway
and Malon Dies
... My love to die
and the rain to be falling on the grave yard
and on me, mourning the first and last to love me

La chanson du mal-aime
mal aime dans son patrie
travel agency brochure: "extraordinaire diversité de paysage
de populations, ce vaste pays (3 fois la France) ou
les civilisations se sont rencontrées
et parfois heurtées violemment
au cours des siècles.

Qui ne se réjouit pas de retrouver
le ciel incomparablement limpide
du haut-plateau iranien,
les roses de Shiraz,
les coupole de faience resplendissant
sous le soleil...
D'Ispahan De retrouver les quatrains
de Khayyam, et la poésie de Hafez
les recits de Birouni d'Avicenne
... qui vous transporteront dans un monde
de beauté et de raffinement... sol fertile sur lequel
l'humanite a écrit quelques unes
des plus belle pages de son histoire."

and love is less kind than the grey twilight
and hope is less dear than the dew of the morn

forever nostalgic, homesick
poetically frustrated, translationally challenged!
impossible to translate Hafez
for the world to read...to enjoy, to jump with joy...
Michaelangelo, though he worked hard, can talk easily to us
across time and space, by his marbles
transmit his message gloriously
But for Hafez, Nezami, Rumi and Shams
translation won't do. But we must try

"If there is something to say
and the whole world hangs on my beard
to stop me from saying it,
my words will reach, even if a thousand years later
the one I intend to reach".

... will... arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time

With all my madness...
... all my ignorance...
... are glad tidings... and a promise...
As if flying... not on earth...
Not quite.

February 14, 2000

notes
[1] Persian for Faculty of Letters
[2] Name of street north of Tehran University Campus
[3] Medical School
[4] Nursery rhyme children sing while holding hands and turning in a circle
[5] Beloved 14th century Persian poet
[6] T.S.Eliot, Little Gidding
[7] Persian poets
[8] Persian for opiate
[9] Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
[10] Dr. Lotfali Souratgar, Dean of Faculty of Letters, Tehran University, 1960's
[11] This is no small matter: in the Persian original third person singular is gender neutral both in the subjective (ooh) and the objective which is the case here: velesh kon, vaase emshabet das nemideh. So Souratgar could have been addressing either gender. In all Persian translations this is a nearly insumountable problem. If you specify the gender of "ooh" and "vey" which is inevitable in English and most other languages, much of the poetry of Hafez and a grear deal of Rumi will be lost. In translation one is forced to separate the "ooh" of romantic love from platonic love and divine love, a separation not intended by Hafez nor by Rumi. Hence"that one", the beloved etc.
[12] Persian poet 19..-19..
[13] Persian woman poet (1967) died in suspicious circumstances: suicide/murder/accident?
[14] T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
[15] Of Tehran University
[16] Persian woman poet (died–), murdered for being outspoken.
[17] Turkish for: head that has fear will be safe.
[18] Quoted possibly from Thomas Edison?
[19] Classical masters of Persian poetry
[20] Persian for beans
[21] Allusion to a poem and title of a book by Reza Baraheni, Persian poet & writer

***

Top

Open windows
A mid-life crisis used to be called puberty,
Average life expectancy
Was about twenty-five, thirty
Tops.
And fourteen, fifteen year olds,
Suffered from a mid-life crisis

And while in 1818,
John Keats wrote
At age twenty-three:

..... When I have fears that I may cease to be
..... ..... Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain, and
..... When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
..... ..... Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
..... And think that I may never live to trace
..... ..... Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;

He was not just kidding
Nor trying to be dramatic.
People his age
Did have fears of imminent natural death.

Now thanks to plumbing and penicillin,
And a myriad other wondrous drugs,
Vaccines, vitamins, and chemotherapy,
Joint-replacement and gene-therapy,
Open-heart surgery and other miracles
Of science and technology,
We preposterously expect
To live to be a hundred.

And therefore consider
Hot flashes and prostate,
Symptoms or even harbingers!
Of mid-life crisis.

So dear fellow baby boomers,
Let us cheer up and celebrate,
And enjoy our old age
While we are still young.

Menopause (of both genders) and Alzheimer's
Parkinson's, tumors ,and Lou Gheric's
And Osteoporosis,
Plus all the other fancy names
Were not fashionable topics
Of the romantic poets,
Because they were luxuries
They could not afford,
Or know,
or suffer from.

So let us cheer up
And jump with joy
While we still can.

And for God's sake
Open those windows!
We need fresh air
And cool water
Plus a mega dose of
Carpe Diem.

***

Top

I have had a...
I have had a long, passionate love affair
with libraries, and book stores.
Any time I come out of such premises
the meteorological conditions have changed,
if it was daylight, it is invariably night,
if it was hot when I went in,
it is cold when I come out.

In case of some libraries
even the season may have changed.

Whenever I enter a library, I leave my body at the door
it is a good thing most libraries and book stores
have attendants who check the stacks at night
before closing up.

They bring me back to my body.
Sometimes, in the past,
this has required force.

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