He created hope
Out of despair.
He struck matches
And turned into a blaze of fire.
"Tell us about life!
We're tired of death."
"To speak of life
One must die."
"Courage to die is enough!
Give us courage to live."
"Since dying is our life,
"Life must be saved through death."
The crowd circled around him
Turning his moans of death
Into a cry of anger
Taller than the castle of death.
"Enough of martyrdom!"
"And enough of repentance!"
"Enough of bloodshed!"
"And enough of surrender!"
The crowd cried in fury
To gain strength from death.
I told myself,
"Again a casket in front.
Again a mourning group behind."
We were guardians of life,
But the guardians of death
Killed so much.
Killed so much.
That life tasted of death in our mouths.
I held his burnt hand and said,
"Neusha! Get up!
You are the sovereign of love. (2)
Leave this casket to the sovereign of death."
He cried out,
"I am not Neusha!
I am Abraham of Azar. (3)
Turning fire into a flower."
They spread a white sheet over him,
Taking his eyes from us.
The crowd stamped their feet on the ground
And raised their fists into the sky:
Seven years of war is enough.
We want peace.
We want peace."
And Neusha was Anusha. (4)
He had turned his rage
Into a flower of hope,
Beyond the dirt of despair.
September 20, 1987
1. Neusha Farrahi, a leftist intellectual and the owner of a Persian bookstore in Westwood, inspired by the tradition of Vietnamese anti-war Buddhist monks, set himself on fire, in front of the Federal building in West Los Angeles, on September 20, 1987 and died thirteen days later. This action took place in a demonstration against the Iran-Iraq war and the Iranian President's visit to the Un in New York. I was among the demonstrators and as described in the poem took his burned hand in my hand and had a mental dialogue with him about the cult of martyrdom. By that time, I had written most chapters of my book In Search of Joy: A Critique of Death-Oriented and Male-Dominated Culture in Iran. The Persian version of this poem was first published in a special issue of Jahan magazine (November 1987) dedicated to Neusha, and later in my collection of poems Sorrow of the Border. The English version of this poem first appeared in my collection of poems Muddy Shoes (Beyond Baroque Books 1999).
2. In his death note, Neusha intermingles socialism with mysticism and speaks of the "Government of Love".
3. According to the Koran, VI:76 Abraham, the prophet was forced by the Pharaoh to enter a fire as an ordeal which immediately turned into a garden. His father, Azar, who is called "Terah" in Hebrew, was an idol-maker.
4. The word "anusha" in Persian means "immortal".
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