The Self-Immolation of Neusha

For Neusha Farrahi (1)


The Self-Immolation of Neusha
by Majid Naficy

In desperation

He created hope

Out of despair.

He struck matches

And turned into a blaze of fire.  

I said,

"Tell us about life!

We're tired of death."

He said,

"To speak of life

One must die."

I said,

"Courage to die is enough!

Give us courage to live."

He said,

"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.  

I said,

"Enough of martyrdom!"

He said,

"And enough of repentance!"

I said,

"Enough of bloodshed!"

He said,

"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:

"You death-mongers!

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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Thank you for the memory of Neusha.

by sima on

I went to elementary school with him. He was a bright and bold little boy. We lost touch and years and years later one morning in New York City I saw the picture of his charred body on the cover of New York Post. I still get choked up thinking of him. What for...?

I wrote about him here: //

Marytyrdom, repentence, bloodshed, surrender... Your writing is excellent on these. Thank you.

Hedieh Sajadi

  I like your poem.

by Hedieh Sajadi on


I like your poem. ........ It is beautiful.  I should say that I have never heard of him.  What a tragedy .





"At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet." - Plato