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Love's secret
Poems & Rumi's rubaiyat by Zara Houshmand

June 12, 2000
The Iranian

Poems by Zara Housmand. To read Houshmand's translations of Rumi's rubaiyat, go here.

-- Home?
-- A picture gallery at the edge of sleep

-- Exile, 1
-- Exile, 2

-- Innocent
-- Empty box
-- Sweet traitor
-- Let them rust
-- Roots
-- Unraveled
-- A Message to 'Rumi's Pen'

To top

A picture gallery at the edge of sleep

The title of the gilt-framed painting

was 'Romance'

although its airy substance was

an early Impressionist landscape. France.


But I had since discovered

........(that 'since' in the space of a hypnogogic fraction of an instant)

that you would travel with me anywhere at all.


Anywhere. I knew this, somewhere in between

the frozen stubble, bitter clods, edgeless shadow

seeping across the blotter of Poland,


between there and the sun-warmed peaches spilling

soft across the white Spanish linen

in calm abandon.


I knew it even in the unremarked walls,

in the recesses.

I could taste you in the flavor of the paint on the walls.

I could feel you deep in the mortar.

To top


Fifty years ago, New York

my father to be

unfurled his carpet on your airport floor

and prayed his way through customs.

Hah! The last time he ever knelt,

and for all I know the last he ever prayed,

at least to show.


He polished his English

watching Cyrano

over and over on the silver screen

and like his hero, hid

his protruding foreign parts

in the fabric of his dreams,

hid his accent in the fist of his words,

and danced his way to the California coast,

Coyote from the east, yes, my dad

was Cyrano de Bergerac.

My dad

was not your Luci's Desi.

Coyote of the west, too, obsessed

to claim his difference as his own-

different only in being the best

and eager to do the work of four men to prove it.


I was born in fifty-three.

Berkeley. The year that everything started.

The man of the year on the cover of Time

was Mossadegh,

another fine coyote

pouring sugar in your gas tank,

pissing proudly on the oil machine

while the dark fuzzy thing in the stroller

parked at the back of the class

piled wet diapers on the great doctor dream

and the money, blocked, stopped coming from home.


Home? What home?

Hey, Great Satan, Sheitan-e-Bozorg,

better the devil you know.

Better the stories we tell ourselves

than the story we've been told.

To top

Exile, 1

Stepping out in the L.A. day,

like quilts spread out to an alien sun,

you make me a gift of this route, the way

it speaks to you; you offer, one by one:

a public path worn private, a tunnel,

the view through a flower's eye, points in space

where forgotten smells, discovered, funnel

an emptiness into the heart, a place

still hollow for another place, still raw

to the routes of escape. Above, a crow

hawks rumors; below the blades of grass claw,

grasping, at the sidewalk cracks. Still, they grow,

recalling birches shimmering like hope

in the creases of a far mountain slope.

To top

Exile, 2

They say that this is as far as you go,

here, where the sound of the waves

bounces back off the cliffs

and returns on itself,

white noise washing and washing again

the blood from out of our voices.


They say that this is the end of the road:

an ocean, an ocean of waiting;

with waves to lick your open wounds,

with salt that bites,

with salt that leeches

the color from out of the blood.


Beached, what difference an angel, a ghost,

in this vast and narrow place?

I see driftwood in your face,

and waste, an ocean of waste,

in these bleached and twisted cords,

these dry veins rooted on another shore.

To top


Waking into the half-light space,

the innocent place,

I see,

but only out of the corner

of my eye:

sharp implement through the heart.

I hear,

long distance,


from the far end of a dark hole

the sound

........of the blind piper leading,

the sound

........of what nation?

Only this green one,

my Jerusalem

in the closet.

To top

Empty box

Now the box lies empty

in Pandora's lap.

I see nothing in the box,


Clearing, now I see

the empty box.

Wood grain.

I see the falling tree,

the shaving plane,

the thrust of a skilled man's hand,

and late that night

for a moment, sweet,

the thrust of his hope in the dark.

To top

Sweet traitor

I had no inkling

how much hope I carried,

no understanding

at all

how this sweet traitor

had metastasized,

spread flush and fed fat on demand

by its selfless sister, love.

You'd think that she would fade and waste

to be so sucked, but no,

she courses fathomless.

Gross hope enmeshed with subtle love

confound me,

self-appointed surgeon,

bleary eyed,

knife shaking in the hand.

To top

Let them rust

Out of the back, the bone

and scrap pit where pigs lie,

thrust this mind forward into

........a more forgiving place.


I am weary of minding every eventuality.

I am tired, bone sick, of painting the enemy.


Let the gate rot on its hinges,

the tools--be honest: weapons--let them rust.

I have no reason to return,

no bone to pick,

no lie;

no, I will eat sunwarmed fruit

when it is ripe, in its own time.

I will lie, my back to the earth,

my face to the sky;

and when the mood takes me,

with clear eyes,

........open heart,

I will cry.

To top


It was back in the days

when roots were the thing

and everybody was digging

with sticks and stuff

in the old dirt,

poking for pride

and coming up

with tubers, or truffles,

or somesuch for the scrapbook.


So I said

well maybe me too

and scratched around in the dust a bit

not thinking too hard about much;

but my stick hit stone

and the stone sang Shame!


hide your shame!

and the stone dug its roots

in the earth like a tooth

and screamed at my decay.

To top


Reflections from the pool danced on the ceiling

where he lay those last few days

and watched it all unravel.


Much that one could frame

accomplishment, regret,

regret, accomplishment, and yet

much more, much more, much more...

defied that grasp,

the suchness, sadness, seeming of a life

so deeply lived; all, all that simply was.

And the water of this pool,

in all its play and dance and light

would simply drain away.

I was witness

and student to that dying.


Years and years have passed.

I have found that there are many smaller deaths,

and I have practiced letting go.

But there are times, if few

that throw me back.

Here I'm standing at the pool

within your eyes.

The lights play.

And now I know

that it's life itself Iím letting go.

To top

A message to 'Rumi's pen'

Don't take all the credit now, my friend.

This love is but a door

........into a wider, deeper love that never ends.

Enter if you dare:

........you'll find a hidden crack that takes you back to where

you smell the ink and feel the trembling weight of a human hand.

To top

* Back to "Love's secret" main index

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the translator Zara Houshmand

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