It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything poetry-wise. There have been lines and stanzas compiled in a notebook, but nothing solid. It’s been 6 crazy years since I started the journey as a poet. I look back and think of how easy it seemed to get something down, to make it a poem. When I look back at those pieces from my first and second year as a creative writing major, well I tend to keep them at the bottom of the stack. So, just because it was easy doesn’t mean it was good. Don’t get me wrong, there are some that I’ve carefully edited, and reconstructed over the years; I’m proud of those few.
There was one poem I found right after I signed up for my first creative writing class, that really made me want to pursue poetry. I used to use this poem as a standard that I measured my poems against. Even as late as 2007, I would go back to this piece to analyze what I liked about it. What made it work as a poem, and what I could do to get my work to include those things that made me want to read it over?
I thought I would post this poem during my writing dry spell to see if it sparked any new ideas. Maybe it won’t, maybe it’s not as shiny as I once thought it was. It’s a piece that I love though, one that I find myself returning to every year.
His Name Is Arash
He is my cousin.
I do not know him.
Pictures flash in my mind:
You are three and I am two.
We stand in the gardens behind Mumangee’s house.
Red and orange flowers surround us,
two dark-haired, black-eyed Persian kids holding hands.
I wear a white jumper with Raggedy Ann embroidered below
the collar. You wear brown shorts and an orange Roy Roger’s
t-shirt. We, two Iranian cousins
You used to hold me close, your little brown arms
surrounding my chubby pale body.
You would say, “My Sarah,”
two of the few words you knew in English,
expressing your Persian thoughts.
Of course I was yours, I was your first girl cousin
and should become your wife.
No one bothered to tell you that
my parents had American plans for my marriage.
Fate twisted with us, Arash:
As children, you were an orphan,
your father the first Iranian soldier to die fighting Iraq,
your mother left to raise you and
the baby girl growing in her stomach.
As Childhood playmates we ran in the gardens and
begged for grapes and
chattered in Farsi.
You even learned to communicate like me.
Did you know that in three short years in America
I would lose my Farsi,
my ability to talk with you?
Where did you think I went those first few weeks?
My family and I fled our country,
afraid of the militant Islamic law invading Iran,
and found a free life here,
where I never had to wear a chador.
I don’t remember those first few months,
but I know I missed you.
And now, sitting at my $26,000-a-year college,
surrounded by food and heat,
I wonder how you felt.
Did you cry for me? Did you think I would come back?
Who did you play with?
When did you forget your English?
Fate twisted with us, Arash:
You were orphaned as a child, I as a teenager.
When my Baba died, I wanted desperately to talk to you.
You called, too, when he was sick.
I remember handing him the phone.
When I answered and heard the Farsi,
I could say nothing.
I sat in the living room and heard my desert-eyed father crying.
He told me what you said.
You’d been to mosque, and said to Allah,
“You took my father, Allah, please don’t take my uncle too.
Please don’t take the father of my Sarah.”
And even though I can barely say ‘how are you’ in Farsi,
I can hear your voice telling him that.
Your words made him survive a few days longer.
The last I heard of you, Arash, you were jailed.
You were seen holding hands with a girl,
breaking a sacred law in Iran.
I pretend that you sat in jail and watched t.v.,
but I know that you were tortured for two months.
I’m sorry Arash.
I’m sorry I left you seventeen years ago,
in the red and orange gardens of Mumangee’s house,
without a hand to hold.
–Sarah Azizi, 1997
ETA: “without a hand to hold” is part of the last stanza but the spacing is messed up. I’ve tried fixing it several times.