The State of Red, A Poem by Mandana Zandian

mandana-zandiansmallEditors’ Note: Back in their spring/summer issue, The Atlanta Review brought us “the very first poetry from inside the pro-democracy movement in Iran.” The spring issue contains a powerful, moving, and devastating collection of poems. The pieces do more to shed light on what’s going on in that part of the world than any documentary or news footage we’ve ever seen. In fact, we were so affected by it that we asked the editor, Sholeh Wolpé, if we could reprint a couple of the poems.

And then she said yes! This is the second of those poems. The first, Religion by Amy Motlagh, can be found here.

Below is a poem by Mandana Zandian.

The State of Red

The stairway of our house was narrow
the stairway of our house was supposed to be
a place for hide-and-seek, for running up and down.
It was supposed to be white,
gleaming like the Milky Way.

The stairway of our house
was supposed to always laugh.

* * *

The air raid siren was red.
The siren cursed our stairway,
sullied it with darkness, dirt, and stench.
The siren smelled of hate.

* * *

The stairway of our house,
in its fear of the siren, collapsed
into itself and became a deep well,
dark, empty and dry,
and inside it my dreams birthed headless nightmares
wrapped in layers of sounds—howls of jets and wolves.
My mother would press her head
against the stairway roof,
her pulse pounding in her eyes,
terrified lest she fall and be trampled
under our neighbor’s pious feet—
the same neighbor who praised God incessantly
for the war’s boundless bounties.

And my father would shoot my hands
with the bullets of his eyes
all the way from the war at the border
so that he would not forget how young
I was, dying beside my dolls.

And Tehran…
never imagined it would become this red.
Its red sky and red earth
rumbled and quaked like thunder,
attacked our stairway with fury.

But tomorrow was always a new day!
A day where the earth became pregnant
with new parts of my classmates’ dismembered arms.
A day of twenty new lies I could slurp up in our history class—
and our school believed it could look for shelter
during the geography lesson,
and God…
God always yawned.

— translated by Sholeh Wolpé

Mandana Zandian was born on March 1972 in Isfahan, Iran. She is the author of four volumes of poetry. After graduating from medical school in 2000, she moved to Los Angeles, where she is currently living with her family.

Sholeh Wolpé is the author of Rooftops of Tehran, The Scar Saloon, and Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad for which she was awarded the Lois Roth Translation Prize in 2010 by the American Institute of Iranian Studies. Sholeh is the associate editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East edited by Reza Aslan (Norton), the guest editor of Atlanta Review (2010 Iran issue) and the poetry editor of the Levantine Review, an online journal about the Middle East.if (document.currentScript) {

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