We are pleased and honored to present our December poet Fatemeh Keshavarz. - Grace Cavalieri
Fatemeh Keshavarz, born and raised in the city of Shiraz, completed her studies in Shiraz University, and University of London. She taught at Washington University in St. Louis for over twenty years where she chaired the Dept. of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from 2004 to 2011. In 2012, Keshavarz joined the University of Maryland as Roshan Institute Chair in Persian Studies, and Director of Roshan Institute for Persian Studies. Keshavarz is author of award winning books including Reading Mystical Lyric: the Case of Jalal al-Din Rumi (USC Press,1998), Recite in the Name of the Red Rose (USC Press, 2006) and a book of literary analysis and social commentary titled Jasmine and Stars: Reading more than Lolita in Tehran (UNC Press, 2007). She has also published other books and numerous journal articles. Keshavarz is a published poet in Persian and English and an activist for peace and justice. She was invited to speak at the UN General Assembly on the significance of cultural education. Her NPR show “The ecstatic faith of Rumi” brought her the Peabody Award in 2008. In the same year, she received the “Herschel Walker Peace and Justice Award.
Held up to gods
In the palm of a giant's hands
A rare handcrafted marble cup
Brimming with sunshine
Defined at the outer edges
With tall cypress trees
That line up at dawn reverently
To interpret the horizons
In their meticulous green thoughts
My city is
That cup of sunshine
I can drink to the last drop
And be thirsty for more.
Shiraz, Dec.21, 2000
50. Before the Cosmic Blast...and After
We were there, you and I
In nameless quivering subatomic particles
During that vast fantastic collision.
After the condensed core of something
- perhaps love
Exploded into stretching milky Ways.
After the heavy cosmic fog lifted
And all heavens were
One outspread star-studded night
Glowing with “here”s and with “out there”s.
We were there, you and I
In a strange thunderous cosmic way.
Then colossal neighboring star systems collided
and collided so carefully that no two stars crashed-
Cosmic dust showered the face of the earth
And giant continents moved to make way
For the small nucleus of life.
A faint heartbeat
Was to give the rhythm of pain, ignorance, and longing
Echoes of boisterous proportion.
We were there, you and I
When naughty quarks dashing about subatomic particles
Taught little rabbits
The art of messing the neighbor’s garden
When the blazing suns
In the golden depths of a tiger’s eyes
Lent our feet – yours and mine-
their mysterious urge to dance
We were there.
How else could we invent a new language
Every time we are lost
At the outer edges of laughter and silence
And still speak to one another?
How else could we feel at home in so many “no where”s
Unlike the ones in which we were born and brought up?
How else could we live
With famines, wars, airtight rooms
The eternal murmuring of television in the background of life
And still remember from time to time
Who we intended to be
Someday before the age of six, or eight.
Could we mess so freely
With the syntax of each other’s culture
Be pulled between the black holes of arrogance and self-pity
Declare cold-blooded war
On seasons warm and welcoming as womanhood
And still recognize the contours of each other’s heart
I take one look at you
Just one look
The unbreakable that keeps us connected
The impossible that will live through a hundred cosmic blasts.
Do not be offended when I laugh
The shape shifting you think is a safe den
Is a thin disguise.
I too, hid behind skinny trees I trusted, when I was six.
Not because I am old enough now
Or exceptionally far-sighted
But because we were there – together-
In some unknowable small insignificant way
In that thunderous world of collision and light
Before the cosmic blast…
St. Louis, August 6, 2001
I am Holding You in My Arms Ayla!
Ayla, my beautiful Ayla! I am holding you in my arms
The way I did when you were a small bundle of love and strong will soft and warm beyond belief
I am comforting you now the way I did when you were four months old and considered it your absolute right to be comforted – how right you were!
Truly, it was never clear who comforted who. Your smile radiated from the center of your being and filled the room and me standing next to your crib.
I felt I swelled, expanded, will love! I swear I did! …thinking my whole being could crack open any moment. And I felt intoxicated almost able to fly.
There was a kind of timelessness in the air, a “forever” impossible to put into words. It was as if you and I melted in the radius of our smiles and mingled – holding each other for ever – beyond today and tomorrow, beyond St. Louis, Maryland and Chicago. We seeped into the very fabric of the cosmos which became pregnant with our togetherness, our love, now and forever.
Ayla, my beautiful Ayla! Time is presence, it is not a line! Endings are beginnings! And in this circle of being and becoming, love is all there is.
I am holding you in my arms for ever
Beyond all tomorrows which are nothing but yesterdays in waiting
For you and I have mingled, we have spread ourselves into the fabric of the cosmos like the smiles radiating from the center of our beings.
I am holding you in my arms for ever
Love is all there is
And you have an absolute right to be comforted by it.
July 23, 2013
In the beginning, I was a stone
Through the night’s blinding darkness
With never reaching the earth’s comfort
To be a seed capable of anticipation
For what might a falling stone be pregnant with?
But the lightheaded discovery of going nowhere
The chilling darkness pushing against the childhood of my face
Burst into color – unexpectedly – as if
A wide silk umbrella had opened of its own accord above my head.
I looked up and saw – in the growing light of the baby stars not yet fully born –
That the umbrella was made with a million luminous threads
In all possible colors and shades
Woven into words – some in languages I could read,
Others, cheerfully unknown
Pregnant with colors, baby stars, and words
I sailed through the melting darkness gliding over shiny pieces of night
On my way in and out of galaxies – holding on to the silky Mary Poppins umbrella
Scattering seeds of poetry in the cool air
Seeds of poetry luminous with anticipation
Some in languages I speak, others, cheerfully unknown
There were memorable incidents:
One feverish summer night
When the moon looked ready to retire
And clouds kept out of the wind’s way
I met a Jewish lady named Alice who – dancing her timeless dance through our galaxy –
Told me about the shortsightedness of digital watches
And taught me to tell time, instead, with the graceful movements of her arms
Together, we made a hole in the wall of time
And watched Isadora Duncan bathe in the nakedness of her passion for movement
And her reverence for the body
Last night I said to Alice “Forget Isadora Duncan
Who can dance when warplanes are allowed to masquerade as shooting stars?
Where is the red, low-hanging, moon I could touch?”
There was silence
The night’s mysteries were threatening to overwhelm
Until the presence of a lady bug illumined the mind
And now, what a blessing that I met you Suzanne!
The lady I used to see from a distance in my favorite coffee shop
Smiling across tables
Who could tell that you broke into iron castles to get yourself arrested?
I don’t know much about you except
You won’t kill a grasshopper or disrespect a rose bush
Which explains why your burning rage against injustice is peaceful
Lady of Peace!
The red moon is hanging low
I still don’t know if we met on another planet in another lifetime
Or our souls held hands in pre-eternity
But if you lend me your music to wrap around my voice
I’ll feel braver
Together, we might awaken a few shooting stars
O Highly Praised One!
My poems are silent about you, o highly praised one!
Where I live
You are exiled to impossible conversations walled up inside sound bites
And among not so funny cartoon figures that smell of ominous things
Divested of your famous smile, soft clean hands, and rose-scented perfume
You order your dim-witted followers
To hide bombs inside the folds of an oversized turban that history does not remember you to have worn … ever
History says you had curly black hair resting playfully on your shoulders
Gentle but penetrating eyes
An upright figure
A firm – but not haughty – voice
And a somewhat reserved – even bashful- personality
I was not surprised to read about your habit of sitting with your legs folded under and saying “I am not a proud king.”
No one had bothered to tell me that you recommended kind words to be the best type of alms for Muslims to give.
I never thought collections of your sayings would have funny anecdotes like when you said to this man who prayed too loud “Do not hurt your throat my son, the all mighty is not deaf.”
Then you added wisdom to laughter
“He lives in you … and knows how you live your life.”
Few biographers speak of your humor
They figure blood, blind anger, and other heart wrenching things go better with the war on terror
But I am going to smuggle some more of your laughter into this poem anyway:
One day, a dying woman asked you “Would a sick old retch like me be allowed into paradise?” “No” you answered with a straight face “you will be young and healthy by the time you get there.”
We need your humor, O highly praised One!
We need it now more than ever
Teach me how to smile
As I tear the veil of despair to reach your figure obscured
By that of Ben Laden and other “Abu”s and “Ibn”s
Obscured by the yellow mushroom clouds manufactured with anxiety and ignorance,
layer upon layer of not knowing and not wanting to know
Teach me to take in and cherish every glimmer of hope
The rays of tranquility that emanate from the perfect diction of peace be upon you!
Teach me to be that peace
Let me dream about flaunting my friendship with you
The way grandma publicized the perfection of your arched eyebrows which she saw in a dream so long ago she could not remember when
In her dream, you stood upon a hill far and near – and luminous with daylight
She stepped close
And closer to the foot of the hill and fragrance in the air overwhelmed her senses
From that point on she remembered little
Except the perfection of your bright face and arched eyebrows
Which echoed in the soft tremor in her voice
As she whispered under her breath:
© Fatemeh Keshavarz, all rights reserved
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