art ~ spirit ~ transformation
e*lix*ir

e*lix*ir   #12
Ridvan 2021
Poetry
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial

The Intimacy of Art

The Writing Life

‘I Go to Paper’: A Conversation with Ruth Forman by Andréana Elise

Poetry

Anthony A. Lee

Translations

“If I Should Gaze Upon Your Face” by Tahirih
Chinese translation by Zijing Pan DiCenzo

Essays

In the Noble, Sacred Place: One Rainy Day in a Holy City by Sandra Lynn Hutchison

Interviews

Anne Gordon Perry on Writing for Film

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

O Nightingales of God! by James Braun

Artist Profile

Benjamin Hatcher, Dancer by Joyce Litoff

Art

Nadema Agard
Beth Yazhari

Comic

Ruhi & Riaz by Solmaz Haghighat

Voices of Iran

The Cherry Orchard by Paria Bakhshi
A Wedding in Prison by Melika Rezvani

Looking Back on Books

In the Eyes of His Beloved Servants: The Story Behind the Stories by J. Michael Kafes
How One Jewish Woman Poet Remade the Wor(l)d: Alicia Ostriker’s The Little Space: Poems Selected and New (1989-1996) by Sandra Lynn Hutchison


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ANTHONY A. LEE

Just for Today

In the Swiss Alps

I love you
just for today
the mountains stand
sun warms the cliffs
water falls white
against the walls of the valley
just for today
the Monk and the Virgin are lovers
dancing at my wedding
meeting secretly tonight
to share this newness
so Eiger will not know
just for today
the world comes to Mürren
the continents shake hands
just for today
I speak Persian and Hebrew
I listen in English
I answer in Portuguese
I understand Romanian
will laugh in German
dream in Spanish
curse in Italian
and make love in French
just for today
for one night
I am a Jew
I will keep the laws of Torah
I will bless my bread
for this one night
I am a Christian
I will wear a cross on my neck
I will love my neighbor
for this one night
I am a Sikh
I will rise at dawn to pray
just for one hour
I am a Muslim
with my forehead on the ground
for five minutes
I am a Bahá’í
I will talk too much of peace
just for today
I will meet strangers
with dark skins
and foreign faces
strangers
they are my cousins
just for today
the earth is one country
and all humanity are its people
for this one hour
I will believe in miracles
on this night
I will make no promises
I will bind myself to you
with skin, with cries of love,
and pearly whiteness
just for tonight
my mother is alive again
my brother comes back
my son and my daughter
are here with me
just for now
her hair shines and dances
her body is firm and erect
for one hour
I am the perfect man
in the image of a god

Let mountain waters crash
Let warring nations rage
Let darkness surround
Let religions revile us

we have made this place ourselves
we live here
this is our motherland
just for one night
it is Paradise


Where is Neda?

Telephone pictures
jerk on my TV screen.
Crowds mill in the streets.
Boys throwing rocks at men in uniform,
guns raised and cocked.
Boys in masks.
Girls in scarves
hand them their stones.

There is blood.
The doctor’s hands can’t stop it.
I am too far away. I feel nothing,

All men are born my brothers.
They are young.
They will grow older.
All women my sisters,
my lovers.

At night on the roof
a clear, sharp cry —
Allah-u Akbar!
begins the night chorus.
There are more dark rooftops —
God is Great!

This is prayer.
A deeper voice asks:
Neda koja’st? . . .
That is the question.
Where is Neda?
Where is my sister?
Neda-jan, where are you?


Persian Memoir*

He never went to school
—a peddler all his life, like his father,
who died when he was seven —
so he had to work making rugs,
as all the poor kids did. Peddlers
didn’t write their lives down, just
forgot them and died forgotten.

The first story was not about him,
But of three killed in the city square
Later, he would call them brothers.

When the crowd gathered
under the cypress trees,
near the blue fountains,
in the yellow dust of Kashan,
young men found relief
from the boredom of the day
in the terror at noon —
death to unbelievers!
the Parsees, the old ones,
wept black tears in their misery.

It was Friday, the call to prayer
interrupted the commotion,
drawing Muslims
to their duty in the mosque,
No one heard the call save one,
who washed his hands and feet,
performed his final ablutions
as hundreds watched
unmoved
by elderly prostrations.

The executioner’s hand,
his bare blade, sliced
three throats, pierced
three chests, spilled
blood on naked skin, twisted
three bodies, and cursed
their infidel love.

The shaykh’s white beard
rested on a child’s face,
his gray eyes closed,
mouth still open in devotion,
withered lips touched a hairless cheek,
wrinkled arms on boyish limbs
stained red.

The boys, traitors,
the old man a kafir!

a veiled woman said
once the excitement was over.

Four Jewish schoolboys hurried
past on lunch break,
and wondered at the remains —
no questions, no time for play.
Later, one would write:
It was the first day of my life.

I read this and wonder too —
no poetry,
no punctuation.

* In his unpublished memoirs, Rayhan Rayhani begins his narrative with a description of the execution of three Baha’is in the central square of Kashan, Iran circa 1870.


I Wake Up In Darkness

(after Sohrab Sephery)

Who called my name?
My wife’s asleep. The house is dark.
I lie naked in bed,
the sheet is soiled,
the blanket will not keep me warm.
Tony! it called.
My children live in other houses,
in dorm rooms, on a hill in SFO—
one a few blocks away.
Who called my name?

Fully awake, I am alone.
I crane my neck on the pillow,
in search of a cool spot
for my cheek. I will not get up
to add another blanket,
will not get up to empty water.
My eyes squeeze to black.

Tiny red roses cover the back wall—
no one sees them. They will fade.
Their petals will drop. I will cut them off.
Crimes of war cover pages—no one
speaks them, no one sees the blood.
Three prisoners killed themselves
last night, hopeless,
breathing hard, eyes darting—
an act of war, the official tells us.
Or murder, maybe.

The lemons in my backyard
are heavy with sweet and sour water.
They will fall from the tree and mold.
The Thai girl with red lips
firm breasts, hips waiting in the green expanse,
will never marry—
she studies contracts, dreams
of tending her mother in Bangkok
in later years. Black woman
in LA, overweight and sexy,
teaches her children religion, no school,
the church is empty down the street.

Tony! I hear again.
Who called my name?

I can’t be still,
must get up, open my eyes,
go to the other side.
Naked, I must go,
must weep, taste the salt of my tears.
I must leave,
no clothes, to the street,
step into the cold,
walk in the rain,
wetness on my skin—
follow my name.



Anthony A. Lee

Bio:   Anthony A. Lee, Ph.D., teaches African American history at UCLA and at West Los Angeles College. He has collaborated on a number of books of poetry in translation. The most recent, with Nesreen Akhtarkhavari, is Love Is My Savior: The Arabic Poems of Rumi (Michigan State University Press, 2016).