This is the first part of my book I Write to Bring You Back written in May 1997, in memory of my wife, Ezzat Tabaian. She was abducted on September 19, 1981 in Tehran and executed on January 7, 1982 in Evin prison. I have added a political timeline at the end of the text.
I write to bring you back. Ezzat! January 7th is your anniversary. Fifteen years ago your heart stopped beating. I felt it in my heart and the earth stopped moving for me. It was late afternoon. Inside a booth I put some coins in the phone and heard your dad’s voice, “She called us. First a man asked my name and then she talked.” He did not remember what you had said. I took a deep breath full of trucks’ exhaust in Darvazeh Qazvin Street and said, “I already know. She is gone forever. Her heart doesn’t beat anymore.” Where did I go? I don’t know.
‘Two days later, I met with your father in the park next to the railroad station. We walked together. The sidewalk was full of war refugees with their big bundles. He handed me your vasiet-nameh (will), and I cried.
I laminated it at Kinko’s yesterday. It was torn. I had patched it with tape earlier. It’s not the original copy, though. He gave me one of these xerox sheets. Your handwriting is perfect. Dots are clear and there is no trembling at the thought of death. Had you envisioned this text in advance? Therein you have drawn a clear line between life and death. No wonder your writing is so sharp and clear. I’ll translate it here.
Name: Ezzat Tabaiian
Father’s Name: Saied Javad
Birth Certificate No. 31171
Life is beautiful and desirable. Like others, I loved life too. However, there comes a time when one must say goodbye to life. For me that moment has arrived and I welcome it. I have no specific bequest; I want only to say that life’s beauties are never forgettable. Those who are alive should try to get the most out of their lives.
My Dear Father and Mother, hi,
During my life you suffered a lot to raise me. Until the last moment I will not forget my father’s callused hands and my mother’s work-worn face. I know that you did your best for me. Nevertheless, there comes the time of separation. This is inevitable. I love you with my whole existence, and I will kiss you from a path through which I cannot see you. My warm regards to my sisters and brothers. Kiss them for me. I love them. In my absence do not suffer for me and do not be hard on yourselves. Try to carry on your lives with the usual love and tenderness. Give my regards to all who ask for me
My Dear Husband, hi,
I had a short life and we had an even shorter life together. I wish I could have lived longer with you. But it is no longer possible. I shake your hand from far away and I wish you a long life. However, I do not think that you ever will see my will.
With a salute to all whom I loved, love and shall love.
January 7, 1982
How much time did you have to write it? They took you into this room, Dante’s purgatory I guess, where you didn’t know if you would be killed or freed, and they wanted you to write your will. They were Islamists, bounded to the letters of law. I think the Islamic law permits a convict on death row to write a will. Did it originate from the sacred right of private property and inheritance? Whatever the motive was, I like the result: A document from the last moments of your life.
Ideological differences are not sacred to me anymore; but I am sure that idealogy meant a lot to you in that room. That is why you were sacrificing your life. Otherwise you would have betrayed your conviction and survived like many who repented. I find three proofs of this in your vasiet-nameh: First, you admit that life is beautiful and desirable, yet you do not want to forget that death will come inevitably. So you chose life only when you could make the best of it. Second, you remember your dad’s “callused hands” and your mom’s “work-worn face” because you want to glorify their working class marks. Third, in the closing part, you finish your will with a slogan which implies your ideological heros, “with a salute to those whom I have always loved, love and shall love.” You are dying, yet you believe that even after death you will continue to love them because ideology will survive you.
Nevertheless, there is one phrase in your will which I couldn’t justify in terms of our ideology. Being afraid of my friends’ reaction, I even wanted to wipe it out. Before you signed and dated the letter, you wrote the common idiom which Iranians say when departing, “khoda hafez” (goodbye), and literally means “may God protect you.” I wish you had used another phrase which did not have a religious connotation. In a society where religion is the state ideology, no wonder that atheism becomes the slogan of rebellion.
Political ideology may change, but ethical conviction remains. You stood up against those who wanted to take your personhood from you. This is a precious heritage for me, who can only be one of the executors of your will.
A Note from the Hospital
Along with your will, I laminated another text belonging to you. It is a piece of paper, the size of your palm. You had folded it many times, so you could hide it between two fingers. I can only read it with my magnifier. Yet, the handwriting is solid and legible. You wrote it perhaps on Monday, one day after your captivity. You wanted us to do certain things before Wednesday. Alas, I received it one week later. The old man pushed it into my palm in the railroad park. We sat on a bench and I unfolded your note, but I couldn’t read it. He put on his glasses and read it for me. I can still feel his whispering, calm and assuring. I kissed his hand and we both shed tears. Here is a translation:
I fled to a house, but they handed me over. Apparently he was a very important person. I told them that I fled from home because my husband hurt me. I pretended to be a thief. Now, they no longer believe me. They said, “You are either an important member of a group or you have been immoral and fled your home. If you do not give your address we will show you on TV.” Anyway, I thought about two different options: either I won’t give them my address, in which case they will obviously find out everything, or I will say that my husband hurt me and I had gone to my father’s house at the end of May. All this time he hurt me. You would say early morning Saturday or Sunday (you would say we do not remember) she walked out not saying where. She did not talk to us at home. She always sat in a corner and when we talked to her, she cried. She didn’t go anywhere. You would say since childhood she had a nervous condition. Since marriage she didn’t express her feelings to anyone, and day after day lost weight, and so on. During this time her husband did not ask for her. Whenever we asked about her he did not answer. We called him several times during the summer but got no response. We went there but he was not home. Since she would get mad we did not follow up. In short, she made us all miserable.
As regards our own house, no one should go there anymore. If possible by Wednesday afternoon take out the hiking boots, if they are there. I will explain everything non-political and ordinary. You do the same. As far as his job, you would say that he is a high school teacher. I will justify other things myself. I will give them the address. I will say after I left he has leased the house and gone. Regarding the other couple in that house, I will say I don’t know; they apparently wanted to go abroad. This is a risk. Sooner or later they will discover my identification. Nevertheless, I might be able to avoid execution through this process.
In addition, as regards our house and the fact that the other couple have gone abroad, you should inform their father. You should want them to take out all of my husband’s photos. You should match your “words” with the family of my husband. For example, I have not visited them since the end of August, and so on. Regarding these two different plans, if possible, you should immediately contact my husband or one of our friends, and ask their opinion. I have to receive the response by Wednesday. Otherwise, I won’t know what you have done and as a result nothing will be done. They should act without delay. If you have done something so far, let me know. The last chance is Wednesday. After that, they will act.
Also, if you follow the second thought, put my birth certificate at home in Isfahan along with my previous medical records concerning my goiter. I love you all. Forgive me. Give my regards to my husband. Tell him that my situation is very good, and that he should endure, too. As regards to my sister, you would say that her husband is a teacher and do not mention his absence. My younger brother has gone to the service too.
I knew that you had broken your pelvis, but I didn’t know that you were hospitalized. Were you in pain when you were writing that note? You had not even mentioned it. Your mind had been so focused on your situation that you could not feel the pain. What was this situation? It is the everlasting contradiction between body and mind, physics and soul. Ah, if only you could have worn a magic hood and flown out of their hands! Alas, mind is always bound to the heaviness of the body. Nevertheless, you began your plan to lift your body and let it float on the surface of your mind. This is not my body, it belongs to someone else: a run-away-wife, a homeless thief. The hiking boots should be taken out of the house because they belong to a student who, early on Friday mornings, goes to Mt. Alborz and meets her Leftist friends. On the contrary, the secret police took your body hostage and manipulating it, tried to capture your mind. This mutual battle began September 19 and ended January 7.
My battle was different. Before they took you to Evin prison, I should have rescued you. There, Tavabin (penitents) knew you. I talked to Faramarz. He still had the same red cheeks and beautiful smile as when you first met him. We walked on the train tracks near Saveh Road. He showed me a ball-point Bic on which Hamid had engraved a phrase with a pin. I do not remember Hamid’s inscription. They didn’t keep him long and he was executed in Ardebil a week ago. We sat on the ramp of the railroad hill and I cried. He watched me from the corner of his eye and his smile grew sad. I think Hamid’s etched statement was a line from a Turkish song, because Faramarz then began to sing aloud. I remembered three of you sitting with me in Faramarz’s house reading The Communist Manifesto a few months before the revolution. You and I had not yet married and I felt that Faramarz was looking at you affectionately.
The same afternoon, Faramarz went to your hospital. His sister-in-law and one-year-old Babak accompanied him. You were in a room in the basement with two other girls. Three Pasdars, Islamic republican guards, with machine-guns walked around the room and near its window in the backyard. Babak’s mother was standing in a line for the blood test. Faramarz slowly opened your door. You were lying down in a bed with a white sheet up to your nose. Your eyes were closed and you did not hear Faramarz whispering your alias, “Simin! Simin!”
A few months later, Faramarz was captured in Tehran, not far from that house you left from that early Sunday morning and then never returned. He was executed in Tabriz a year later.
Could I wear a white uniform and take you out from the hospital? Should we use gunfire? Instead, I decided to use influence both from the top and the rank and file.
Early in the morning we took a double-decker bus going towards the ministry. I was sitting next to your mother and looking at the autumn. Thousands of chattering sparrows were sitting on tall half-naked sycamores. Should I go and see him? Will he detain me? Once in a while I could hear machine-guns shooting. Mojahedin-e Khagq, members of the major anti-Khomeini party, were falling all over the city. The death squads were executing the dissidents on the street. I found myself in front of the ministry building. A friendly Pasdar searched us and we went upstairs. In the dark hall two men with beards were sitting behind a wooden lectern, using it as a bunker. One of them took us to the office and said, “Wait here.”
Then your father, Aqa Javad began to tell his story again. The Minister had been detained ten years ago during the Shah’s regime. Aqa Javad remembered him behind the prison bars. The minister had told him that he would never forget your father’s tears. He came to our wedding two years ago. You were pouring tea for the guests and I carried it on a shiny metal tray. I offered him tea. He smiled under his beard. But we did not chat, and he did not stay for dinner. It was a few days after the New Year, the first and the last “spring of freedom”. We had promised each other not to have a wedding in the Shah’s time.
After a long time they came and took us to another room. It had a large window. I stood and watched the rain. Before the revolution, you talked about him a lot. You considered him your political mentor. After being released from prison he, as a member of Mojahedin-e Khalq went into hiding. You had no news of him until you heard that he was coming back home on the same airplane which carried KhomeinI from Paris to Tehran. You still did not know what his position was. That night you went to visit him and I knew that you would return disillusioned. When in 1976 a group of Stalinists within Mojahedin-e Khalq arbitrarily changed the ideology of the organization from Revolutionary Islam to Marxism, he stayed defiant and went to Najaf, Iraq to see Khomeini and to become a fundamentalist. The minister told you about his feeling of loss and anger when one day when he came to his underground house in Tehran and saw that, because he had not converted to Marxism, his friend had emptied the safe, including the pistol and the group’s documents. You, of course, took the opposite direction, and when I met you in 1978 at Tehran University, you had already broken with the ideology of Mojahedin-e Khalq and taken a Marxist view. I remember when I saw the new Manifesto of Marxist Mojahedins in Aryamehr University in 1976, I was overjoyed. I wrote a text myself and attached it to that wall in front of the Student Library in the Department of Technology at Tehran University, where the dissidents usually put their literature. It was called “Did the Marxists cheat the religious revolutionaries?” I had rejected the theory of conspiracy, and self-righteously related this ideology shift to the polarization of the petty-bourgeoisie and its reflection on the political movement. Before I went out the other door, two armed university guards, who were hiding behind a pillar, rushed to catch me. I ran away but my back was bruised by their club.
There was a knock on the door. I turned back and saw the same friendly Pasdar. He said that the minister could not see us. We came down and crossed the street. Waiting for the bus, I looked at the luxurious building of the ministry. Was he watching me through one of those windows? After all, if he had come, what would I have told him? Did I want to betray my political conviction and beg him for your release? My mind was blank. All I wanted was you.
An Ex ComitÈ Member
That same evening, I went to a shanty town near the Saveh Road. I had to take two buses. Before I turned into the alley, I saw Ussa sitting in the small tea-house. He was chewing his moustache and looked at me in surprise. I drank the first cup of tea, but before the waiter brought the customary refill, we got up. On the way to his house, I told him your story. The door was ajar. We went to the living room and sat on a beautiful carpet. Then his wife came and offered us tea. She wore a colorful Turkish scarf and a long skirt. I did not know then that for the next few weeks I would visit this warm family many times. Our conversation was often interrupted. His house was open to all sorts of people: factory workers, shopkeepers, vendors, villagers, Pasdars and students with different political conviction and party affiliation.
He remembered you from The House of Workers near Tehran University. Competing leftist groups tried to control the house, but none of them dared to challenge him. During demonstrations he usually carried his own personal banner and was able to attract the largest crowd. At that time, I guess you appeared as a worker in Ziba Yarn. You left home at dawn to catch the shuttle and returned tired at dusk. Once a girl in your factory teased you for wearing your undershirt backward. She figured out that you had made love at dark! I often laid down in bed and listened to your calm breathing or felt your heart beating. You wanted to carry the ideology of the proletariat among working people. It was a few months before the revolution and many Marxist students had found jobs as factory workers.
During the peak of the revolution in February 79, he organized a ComitÈ (Revolutionary Committee) and had 300 armed men under his command. They filled the void caused by the disintegration of the old regime by policing the neighborhood, judging disputes and helping the needy and the unemployed. But when the local mosque began to control the ComitÈ and purge it of “impure elements”, he resigned. Nevertheless, his popularity did not diminish in the neighborhood and his unauthorized power grew stronger. He knew a Pasdar who was previously a goldsmith apprentice in the central bazaar and now worked in Evin political prison. Perhaps he could use his influence. Day and night I went to his house to find a remedy. If they were still in bed I would sit on the carpet, waiting for him to wash his face while his wife was spreading a cloth for breakfast. The little girls were still snoring and the boiling samovar gradually accompanied them. I saw you in that spiritual mist, when we lived together on Dampezeshki Street. I used to go down to buy the fresh sangak from the bakery, and then eat half of it on my way back. You set the teacups and rinsed the salty cheese. Oh, to have breakfast with you one more time!
After a few weeks, I stopped going there. His connections did not work and both of us might unintentionally cause each other trouble.
A Magic Power
I used alleys for walking and avoided crossing the main streets. That was the rule of thumb. Death squads and secret police were patrolling the city day and night, and I could have been recognized by Tavabins riding in secret police cars. I should have stayed home, but I could not overcome my anxiety. Walking helped me to relax. During one of these self-flights, I heard the news from a radio in front of a kebab stand. An army plane had fallen and some of the top leaders of the armed forces, including the new force of Pasdarans, were killed. It was the second year of the Iran-Iraq war. Had an Iraqi Mig hit it or was it an act of sabotage? It was not clear. But it lit a spark in my heart. A new uprising did not seem likely, but a coup d’etat was possible. In fact, the radio had recently aired the news of such an unsuccessful attempt. A shift in power could change your destiny and bring you back into my arms. I had seen this transformation before. Indeed you and I both took part in it. All these armed uniformed bearded men with their garrisons, tanks, prisons and propaganda systems could evaporate overnight.
It was February 8, 1979. I was coming back from a factory in the outskirts of Tehran with a dozen university students. We had gone there to force the owner to pay his workers’ six-months-unpaid salary. Two workers brought him to the front yard. He was chubby and tall with big red cheeks. He was scared and could hardly talk. The plant had no sales for the last eight months and he did not have any money. We did not know what to do. Some of the workers talked very boldly and the owner listened politely. The government was dying and could no longer back him. But the workers had our support. Finally it was decided that the workers would elect a council to manage the production and sales. Then we all had to rush to catch the last bus before the curfew. The bus stopped at Shahyad Place. We fled into an alley. Behind us a small group of soldiers shot into the air. It was said that last night the Royal Brigade moved to crush the revolution but the airmen in Farahabad Air Force Garrison had stopped them. When I got home I called Isfahan. You had gone there two days ago to visit your family. Then Hossein and I took all of the empty bottles to the street near a bunker. A few cyclists who had covered their faces asked people to go to the Farahabad Garrison. They belonged to Fedaiian-e Khalq. A young man was showing people how to make a Molotov cocktail. I opened the door for you early the next morning. The heater had not worked and you were shivering for eight hours on the bus. I clasped you into my arms to make you warm. It was an exciting moment. The day of uprising had come.
Hossein and I rode our motorcycles while my sister, Nooshin, and you sat on the rear seats. First, we went to the Farahabad Garrison, and I went inside a tank for the first time in my life. Some of the rebel soldiers had blackened their faces with charcoal. Sometimes you could hear shotguns. A tall, heavy cleric was walking briskly. He was alone in the narrow sidewalk in the middle of the boulevard. Passersby said to each other, “Begu marg bar Shah!” The first word (meaning “say”) was uttered short and emphatically like a shotgun, and the rest (meaning “down with the Shah”) long and soft. In Zarrabkhaneh crossroad we stood by the fence of Savak (secret police Center). A few minutes earlier a man had lost one of his legs when he stepped into the yard. Now they were looking for a cat to walk on the mines. From there we drove fast towards Evin prison. The gate was open and crowds were seen everywhere. A sniper was shooting people from a tall hotel nearby. Hossein had been imprisoned there for two years and knew the place. In front of the kitchen some people wanted to dig the ground. They thought that torture could only be done inside dark wells and damp cellars. The huge colanders were still half-filled with rinsed rice. The jailers had fled in great haste. Then we passed different gates and found ourselves inside the prison. In one hall the electronic door was shut and we felt trapped. There were solitary small cells in that ward. The walls had a shiny green color. There were no windows. The toilet was inside the little cell. The lamp was fenced. There was a peep hole on the heavy metal door. Somehow the electronic door began running again and we were freed. You smiled and told Hossein, “we opened the old prison, but it became a new prison for us!” In fact, a group of armed civilians tried to push the people out and control the prison. They were going to organize the first prison unit of the new regime. Hossein found a machine gun cartridge on the ground. We rode our motor cycles going in the direction of Qasr, another political prison.
I saw that power is not a divine gift. The magic was gone. Prisons, garrisons and royal palaces had all become naked buildings with no extraordinary protection. The attempt of one sniper in the Evin or a small armed devotee in the Qasr prison could not return the magic. The Shah, ministers, the Savak agents and military generals were of the human race with no noble blood in their veins. Now the new power has sprayed a new magic potion in the air. It put on clerical turban and garb and grew a beard to hide its human origin. Could I go to your hospital, put my hand on the armed Pasdar at your bed and say, “Dear! the game is over. Put aside your machine gun and go home. Let me hold my sweetheart in my arms again.”
How wonderful is the idea of Mir-e Nowroozi (New Year’s King) which Hafez, the thirteenth century poet, referred to in his lyrics. In the ancient Persia it was a custom that on the New Year people chose a king from their own ranks and he could rule over the land for three days. That way the rulers and the ruled both remember that the power is not magic and it might evaporate overnight. Perhaps this is one of the functions of the Election Day ceremony in the democratic systems. In Iran, every group which takes power does not want to admit its human origin, and that is why it leads society to cannibalism.
Wandering around, I saw a woman who looked like you. She had big eyes and long, thin eyebrows. The black veil did not show her body, but she was slender like you. She went into a phone booth and I stood by the door watching her. Then she opened the door and asked for change. Her voice changed her body for me, nevertheless I continued my thought. Is it possible that you reincarnated into the body of someone else? Indeed, the idea crossed my mind the first night of your absence, and now had come back to me again.
That Sunday, I was supposed to see you and Hossein at five o’clock at Shadabad bus station, Azari crossroad. Hossein came on time, but you didn’t show up. The first bus left and we decided that Hossein would take the next one. We were worried that the patrols wuld catch us. I stayed longer and took the last bus. Then I remembered your telling me a few days earlier about your appointment on Sunday. “Sadeq knows the place,” you had said. I had seen Sadeq. He was a lieutenant officer who worked as a sympathizer with Dal Dal, a student organization affiliated with Paykar. Finding him irresponsible, you purged him from the group, a few months earlier. When I asked, “Do you know what he is doing now?”, you chuckled like a child who knows she has done something wrong, “He has not been seen for around for twenty-five days. This is the last time that we are meeting in this house.”
I had to walk for ten minutes from the bus terminal to the house. Hossein built this house with his own hands during the Shanty Town Uprising in 1977. They had to build their houses overnight before the mayor’s bulldozers destroyed them. It marked the beginning of the revolution. I could smell the fresh cucumber, tomatoes, and onions from the nearby farm. The first time you came this way with me was to tell Nooshin that we were engaged. At night they put their bed in the open air near the flower bed and we slept inside. Later I smelled something burning and rushed outside. Touching the anti-mosquito burner, their pretty quilt was burning and they were still asleep.
My sister opened the big, cold iron door. I leaned back against the wall. She took me inside and said, “She may come by herself.” We waited and waited and at last Nooshin took me to the kitchen. The gas-stove did not work and she had to cook the pieces of salmon on a small kerosene burner. I took the dinner-cloth and bread and we returned to the cold room. Hossein had gone to see a friend and we two sat down at the cloth in silence. I put the fish on my fork and brought it to my mouth. It tasted all raw. I felt nauseous and rushed to the yard. Nooshin followed me repeating, “It is not well-cooked” I sat on the stone bench and said, “No! I felt Ezzat’s flesh in my mouth.” I cried.
When Hossein came back we sat down to discuss what we had planned. Since last May our organization Paykar had gone through a fatal crisis. In its weekly editorial in Paykar number 110, the Central Committee had changed the main political slogan of the organization from “Against the Islamic Republic Party! Against the Liberals!”” to “Against the Islamic Republic Party!” Khomeini was ousting President Banisadr from the government, and Mojahedin-e Khalq, siding with the latter, bombed The Islamic Republic Party headquarters in Tehran. As a result, the regime intensified its terror against the opposition and tried to massacre the whole secular intelligentsia. Most of the rank and file in Paykar, including us, disagreed with the new tactic and accused the leadership of conformism towards the liberals. We wanted to make a faction within the organization and carry on a political debate. The Central Committee labeled us as left-wing-liquidators and stepped forward to purge us. Under the state terror and the internal conflict, the organization began to disintegrate.
I could not concentrate, and the raw fish and your flesh were consuming me. I went to bed. But the image did not leave me. Was it possible that you had died and I was eating your flesh? But where could I find your body? I saw myself like a cannibal who eats from the corpse of his deceased lover to conjure her soul. But where could I find your body?
The idea of eating your flesh did not come back to me until we went to the cemetery of the Infidels outside of Tehran in the Khavaran Road to see your grave. It was very different from the first time that you and I had gone there together to see my cousin Sadeq’s grave. He was among the first group to be executed in June and had been hastily covered with dirt in a collective pit without any tombstone. Since it was the first burial place, we found it easily. Along a bunch of red tulips you put a brick on his grave, engraving on it with your hair-pin, “Sadeq! You were honest as your name implies.” He was transferred from Isfahan to Tehran to work in an underground printing house, but the place was raided at his arrival, and they were all executed within two days. He had a shy smile and exuded peace. Now I had come there without you. Six months had passed and the cemetery had become unrecognizable. There were burial places everywhere. The relatives of the deceased had put tomb stones on their graves, but the Pasdarans had bulldozed them. Aqa Javad was told that the mark of your grave is eight paces from the gate and sixteen paces toward the wall. He paced it himself several times and then we sat there. You were among two women and fifty men executed together and buried collectively. We were crying in silence when a group of armed Pasdars came in. I hid myself behind a lady. I wore a derby and beard, looking like a shop-keeper. Then Aqa Javad said, “I am going to shovel the place and take Ezzat with me to Isfahan. I will bury her home in our flower bed.” I was stunned. A strong drive filled me. I wanted to see you for the last time and say goodbye to you. When they executed Mohammad, your brother-in-law in Isfahan, your father had seen the corpse. There were three holes in his body: one on his chest and two on his forehead. But they let him be buried in a public cemetery. Could I see your bullet holes too? Do you still have your wedding ring on? There were people who had buried their loved ones in their backyards. Then the allegory of raw fish came back to me again.
No. I could not eat your flesh. My collective consciousness has deprived me of my ancestral cannibalism. I could only hope that you reincarnated into flowers, birds and… Then I understood the wisdom behind pouring a jar of water on graves while visiting the deceased. Most Friday evenings my father took me to his dad’s tomb. We sat around the stone. He tapped it with a small rock while praying slowly. A boy poured water on the grave and my father gave him some change. There was a small pine tree at the tombstone which grew taller and taller. Here we had only scattered tulips and red roses beaten by the Pasdars’ boots.
My mother used to tell me the tale of The Wandering Nightingale. The mean-spirited step-mother killed the innocent sister and made a soup out of her bones for the disloyal father, but the good-hearted and loyal brother collected the bones and buried them. A pine tree grew out of that grave, from which a nightingale flew out, “I am that wandering nightingale/returning from hill and dale…”
I’ve Killed a Person
We do not have even one picture together. We had to remain faceless, so the secret police would not recognize us. But I have three pictures of you. The latest one is from your student years in Tehran University, with a boyish short hair cut and your proud, naked neck. Just like the first day that we met. No. That day your curly hair was touching your shoulders, like the ancient figures in Persepolis inscriptions. Hossein and I entered the Zandi Cafe near the campus and before we ordered two dizis (lamb broth), he saw you through the window. You and Mahbubeh were sitting in the backyard eating. You finished your meals and had to pass through the hallway where we were sitting. That is why I saw you up close, but you did not exchange eye glances. I liked your look: slender, not short, reminding me of my angel sister, Nafiseh. I know. She has put the mark of ideal woman for me from childhood. Whenever I have betrayed this model, I failed in love. Nonsense!
When I saw you in that tomboy style for the first time, I was shocked. We went to the south side of the city to buy books from the high school bookstores which, as a result of revolutionary student movement, had sprung up everywhere. On our way back, we went to the University, Department of Economics to see Mother based on Maxim Gorki’s work. There you saw Moosavi, a friend in the cafeteria, and I became upset. He was tall and had happy eyes. The two of you had spent twelve days together hiking in a student mountaineers’ group. When we sat down outdoors to drink our tea, I said that I was emotionally involved with you and if you were interested in someone else you should tell me. You said that this commitment was too early, but I said that I was going to go abroad to connect with Mojahedin-e khalq (Marxist-Leninist) in one month and I did not want to lose you. The day I left, I kissed you on your forehead. That was the first kiss.
I sent you two letters from America. When I returned two months later, you complained that I had not taken you with me. During my absence, our friend, Kobra, had found a connection with Mojahedin (Marxist-Leninist) in a factory. Some of them were not sympathic to the actual movement on the streets and called it petty bourgeois. They advocated a pure working class movement. I wrote an essay describing them as economists. That night at the table, you were reading my manuscript aloud for me. I was typing and your hair was disheveled. Your scent conquered me. I hugged you and kissed you. You didn’t kiss me until I asked, Don’t you want to become my wife?” You said, “Yes,” and kissed me deeply. You had firm and beautiful legs, buttocks, breasts, and a tapered waistline. From that night in September, the revolution took on the scent of your love for me.
Your mother brought me the other two pictures. In one of them, you are standing with her, unveiled, in the middle of your garden in Isfahan, and the flowers have covered half of your skirt. I promised your mom that I would cut her from the picture. You are not more than sixteen years old. I put your picture in a brown wooden frame and put it on the mantle of my “underground” room. Your eyes always talked to me. Whenever I wanted to make love to you, I looked at those eyes. You were gone forever, but in that winter I became filled with you.
Your mom planted flowers at your house in Isfahan, and a few weeks after our wedding you brought some of them to Tehran. One day, Hossein, Nushin, Mehdi, Fariba, Kasra, you and I gathered all of the leaves, swept the whole big backyard, and washed the pond. When everybody was drinking tea and watching the clean yard from upstairs, you and I planted your pansies in the flower beds. I scratched the dirt and you put your yellow and purple petals there. How much I miss you, Ezzat!
I see your eyes in the third picture. It belongs to your elementary school years. Your hair has covered your forehead up to your eyebrows. Your eyes are everywhere. I put them under my enlarger device and magnify them sixty times. They are alive and as big as the eyes of Narges, your niece. I saw her at age ten after your death. I opened the door, and there you were in Narges, looking at me. If you had not had that abortion, I could have you with me now. It was a few months after the February revolution. The test was positive. I didn’t mind having a child, but you said that you would kill yourself, because raising a child contradicted underground life. We found a doctor who did it illegally. After the abortion, he drove us home and I went out to buy liver to barbecue for you. You were silent all day. I guess it was two days after the abortion that you went to the university and came back a few hours later. When I opened the door, you ran into my arms. You cried aloud and said, “I killed a person! I killed a person!” Only after your death, I understood what you meant.
When I was a preschooler A big man riding a bicycle wanted to kidnap a little girl in our alley, but the assistant of Akbar, the butcher, ran after him and deflated his bike’s tire. They hit him and he said in tears, “My wife is dead. I want a daughter!”
Return of Poetry
I stopped writing poetry when I became a devoted Marxist. It happened three months after I came to Los Angeles to study linguistics in 1971. I vowed to myself not to come back to poetry until the liberation of the proletariat. One year later I transferred from UCLA to Tehran University to do revolutionary work in Iran. The anxiety created by underground work replaced my need for writing poetry. My interest in words did not stop, of course. I wrote political essays, did research on the socio-economic situation of the countryside, translated analytical books, but wrote no partisan poetry. I did not like to abuse muses. Then that night came.
It was a few days after your death. In the morning, we had gone to Mount Alborz to pay homage to you. Snow was on the ground. We were in the “Valley of Water-flower” Golab Dareh, coming down alongside the brook. I cried in silence, once in a while bending and washing my face with the icy water. Hossein began to sing that beautiful Nazli poem of Ahmad Shamlu about Vartan who died under torture after Shah’s coup d’etat in 1953. He changed the name of Nazli to Ezzat:
Ezzat, Spring smiled and the judas-tree blossomed.
Beneath the window
The old jasmin’s have flowered,
Do not be a dreamer
Do not grapple with the evil death
Being alive would be better than dying
Especially in Spring.
Then we all, the chorus, sang:
Ezzat did not speak
Ezzat did not speak
Now, it was evening. Mehdy was sitting behind me on the carpet. I had turned on a strong table lamp to see my words. Tears were dropping on the little notebook. All of a sudden it came. I wrote nine poems for you and then put down the pen. The language and imagery of these poems were very political, but the feelings very personal. I wanted to make you alive again. I wanted to avenge your death. I wanted to have you close to me. You spoke to me through Muses. I turned back and told Mehdy, “Now I understand why early men drew those buffalos on the Altamira caves.”
I did not write more poems after that night for four more years. I still had to live with the shadow of death in my life. Death had taken on the scent of your life, and I craved for it. Less than one month after your death, I was standing at the street waiting for a taxi. A white Paykan, ignoring other passengers ahead of me, stopped at my request. Surprised, I opened the door and hesitantly got into the front. The driver asked if I were a member of Peykar organization, and when I denied it he said that he would take me to a police comitÈ. For a few seconds, I was overwhelmed with the sweet feeling of being close to death. I asked myself, “Why not let him take me to the land of death where my beloved Ezzat resides?” But I was able to overcome my necrophilia. As the car was moving quickly, I opened the door and jumped out onto the street, waiting to hear a shotgun. I hit the ground, got up and ran to a narrower street. Then I remembered that Sunday, September 19, when you fled the house in which your cell had its last meeting. Around 3 pm, Sadeq, the penitent, and a group of Pasdars knocked on the door, all of you ran out the back door. The other Pasdars who were besieging the house took all of you, but you were able to free yourself and began to run. One of them aimed at you, but the bullet stuck in the pistol. A few blocks away, you climbed a wall and jumped down inside a house to hide yourself. This was where you broke your pelvis, and the landlord locked you up in a room. From there you called a friend and said, “Tell Majid that I am captured and he should wipe out all of my footprints.” I entered a schoolyard to hide, but the custodian ordered me to leave. Coming back to the street, I saw the same white Paykan stopped in front of me and the driver called my name. He was Alireza Sepasi-Ashtiani, a member of the central committee of Paykar who I had not recognized in the car. He had forgotten that I was very nearsighted, otherwise he would not have played that way. At that time, we belonged to two different factions of the group. Nevertheless, we shook hands and departed. A week later, he was arrested and after a while was executed. Before death, his blood was pumped out to be used for the soldiers of Khomeini’s “Holy War”.
I had not only to change my location and go into exile, but also to go through a mental transition. First, after two years of readings and analyses, I conducted a series of critical talks for a group of Iranian emigre in Los angeles called, “Marx not as a Demagogue”. Then I experienced an emotional explosion which brought poetry back to me. One afternoon in September 1985, I was watching a movie on TV in my house at Venice beach. First it showed a teenage girl, slender with her hair in two braids. She was having a good time with her father in a bar. Then the father drove his big truck on the freeway passing Death Valley, while the daughter was cooking in the back of the truck. Suddenly big rocks started rolling down from the desert toward the truck and hit the roof. The father mysteriously died that night, and I turned the TV off. I began to tremble and broke into tears. I took a walk on the beach, but my fear and anxiety did not go away.
I returned home. It was dark and lonely. I rushed upstairs to my brother’s apartment. Talking with him and his wife calmed me for a while, but the fear and trembling returned. I burst into hysterical tears shouting, “Ezzat, why did you leave me alone?” The girl in the movie looked like you, the father was a truck driver like your father, and the scene shifted from happiness to death and solitude. For three days I had to hold the hand of someone, like a scared child. On December 22, a Sunday, I began to write poetry again. It did not stop for more than four months. Poems were pouring out of me. I collected one hundred and eleven of them in After the Silence.
Ezzat, do you hear my voice? Hold my hand; embrace me. I could not rescue you, neither through a minister nor a member of the rank and file. The State power did not collapse. You did not give birth to a child, and a desire for your reincarnation has remained unfulfilled. However, I did not choose death. You will live through these words. When someone picks up this book, we will speak to the world.
January 7 to May 19, 1997.
A Political Timetable
* 1953: Coup d’etat against the popular Prime Minister Dr. Mossadeq. Return of the Shah to power with the help of the American and British intelligence services.
* 1963: A Failed uprising led by Khomeini, a Shiite clergyman in Tehran and the religious town, Qom.
* 1970: The emergence of armed struggle by Marxist and Islamic leftist intellectuals.
* 1974: The Marxists converts purge the Moslems out of “Mojahedin-e Khalq”, an Islamic Leftist organization.
* 1975: A fatal blow to “cherikha-ye Fadee-ye Khalq”, an Marxist leftist organization by Shah’s secret police.
* 1977-Summer: The “housing” uprising in the “out-of-zone” towns around Tehran opens a new revolutionary situation.
* 1977-Fall: The “Poetry Nights” in Goethe Institute aimed against censorship. Student uprising in Tehran and other cities.
* 1978-February: Uprising in Tabriz. The clergy takes hegemony in the anti-Shah movement.
* 1979-February: Downfall of monarchy. The establishment of theocracy.
* 1979-November: The seizure of American Embassy by the Islamic fundamentalist students in Tehran. Resignation of the moderate Prime Minister Mehdy Bazargan.
* 1980-September: The beginning of 8-year war between Pan-Islamist Khomeini and Pan-Arabist Saddam.
* 1981: Massacre of the opposition throughout the country.