We talk about the Shah here all the time but we never talk about Leila. I wrote a poem about Leila once. It was exactly three years ago, at the time when I went under. I went under because of a Persian Male–one of those with eyes of Eternity and kohl, who oozed Hafez from every pore in veiled dank misty rivers. You know the type, but at the time I didn’t, and so I fell in love. And he fell out and I went under. Into a very dark place. And when I came back, I’d written this poem. Or this poem had written me.
So walk with me if you will down this very dark road. I will navigate you ithrough it to its hidden light… Biya ta tariki barafshanim.
Leila Pahlavi died alone at night in Leonard Hotel near Marble Arch, in London in June, 2001. The cause of her death was given as a combination of pharmaceutical sleeping pills and other pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, along with anorexia nervosa. If you believe she was assassinated, you may not get much from this poem. In it, I went on Leila’s journey to the other side, to Irkalla, the land the Sumerians and Babylonians called the Great Below. And we two, Leila and I, did not go alone. We went with the goddess Inanna.
In Sumero-Babylonian mythology, Inanna/Ishtar, Goddess of Love, makes this journey of her own free choice, to visit her dark sister, Ereshkigal, the Queen of the land of the dead. Inanna must undergo what all the dead must when they enter her sister’s realm. She must pass through seven gates, at each one further stripped of her garments and judged, Once naked. she must be slaughtered by her own sister and her carcass hanged from a peg. But she is rescued by her servant and two hermaphrodites, who embody the balance of the male and female. That is to say, resurrected.
This myth is a clear prefiguration of the Christian Crucifixion as well as the Greek Persephone and Orpheus myths. What is striking, however, is that the journey to the Great Below in this earlier version belongs exclusively to women. It is women’s own violence, grief and rage, which must be confronted and assimilated by themselves, and not projected onto men, if women are ever to be free. In this process lies their Power
I have said similar things about Iran.. No matter how severe the foreign interventions have been, Iran must own its own history. Only then can she be whole. Finally the female voices in this poem who speak violently against the Shah, the Eternal Father, have no political content whatsoever.
Leonard Hotel near Marble Arch (Descent into Irkalla)
Open the leaves of morning’s door. -Morning Prayer of Imam Ali
Princess Leila, Leila-joon
They have scattered all the stones
that you gathered for them faithfully.
And they’re gone now, all of them.
What a fine June night to take a walk.
To step into your sister’s arms who
waits for you at Marble Arch.
She’s been waiting far too long
Stumble to her in the dark
but soft my sweet insomniac.
Rest assured, but rest forearmed
This is no valentino runway.
And anyway, you’re far too thin.
It’s right that you refused their seeds.
This is no styx. There are no men
on chariots to pull you in.
(Nor shahbahnous to fetch you).
Still better take some nourishment
for if you do not come back up
good doctor iqbal’s r and x’s
will get all the credit.
Which only feeds the status quo
–-those coroners what do they know–
and this is no connecticut. Come,
take your sister’s medicine.
Now down the hatch we go.
Welcome to Irkalla dear.
Strange no man’s land.
Here are no salad days at brown
no birds no poems no peacock thrones
to dream you more of their irans.
But only sister’s loving hands.
You see how low she bows you, how deftly
she removes your crown. And
you thought they had done so. Let’s
undress the true wounds now.
Princess leila, leila-joon
You’re nothing but a bag of bones.
Strange strange karbala.
That was the first gate.
And seven times she’ll strip you blind
and seven you’ll be judged. Not by the ones
of books and stones
but by the searing pangs of a
kind of a driven labour of love.
Sink sleepwalker deep into her slumber
feeding succorless on placenta of grief you can
see how much she grieves,
grieves for her consort and
for all the endless dead, convulsive
uncontrollable venom of grief she
grieves because she’s angry, grieves because she’s jealous, because
you left her all alone here to rot in this hellhole maligned forgotten
misunderstood stuck in this godforsaken sewer pit this
stinking shithole of a great below while upstairs you rode alpha
romeos with all those lovers you could never love because you
chose to love only him spewing his megalomanias into the wind part
cyrus part che part errol flynn that party at persepolis boy that was rich
not to mention that ridiculous white revolution you
stupid anorectic bitch what the
hell’s gotten into you starving
yourself for the sake of your fucking father well
here are no fathers but only larvae so
don’t you dare to cry out for him missy when she
hangs you out from her peg to dry your
carcass a slab of maggot-ridden meat whose
flesh eats foetal into the bone it is
to cry out
for him for them
we take care of
the forsaking here thank you
listen sleeping beauty
daddy’s little girl
we do the putrefying they
are not answerable we
are the clean-up crew we
are reliable this is
our golgotha our
sacred suicide this is
women’s work lily it is
between you and the
and then in the original myth
the two hermaphrodites fashioned from the dirt beneath the ocean’s fingernails
with the help of the ever-faithful servant
waft inanna back up to the sky
and you Lady ship
would you too rise
as the sun soaked through your window from Oxford Street
and room service knocked on your door
if I only could have held you in my arms and told you so
as you lay prone in your posh hotel shorn of your cast-off robes how
distended into darkness deep in amniotic fluid sac of gall
the embryo is still born. Darling darling
do not fear the fear for her killing bed
is our wedding bed where her rage shall midwife
the chrysalis of foam, sole alembic from which we emerge