Fall 2007 Vol 5.2
Selected Poems
Ali Alizadeh

Listening to Michael Jackson in Tehran
after Azar Nafisi

Smuggled across the fierce chasm
between us and the US, and then

hidden, stuffed between Farsi
and Science textbooks in my school

bag, the illegal and sacrilegious
cassette-tape of Thriller, ready for

revelation to the sheepish, ignorant
kids on the bus to my primary school

in war-stricken Tehran. My plan:
to expose the forbidden thing, exhibit

my courage, rebelliousness, etc. Autumn
of ’83, desperate for attention/approval

from the other kids. My copy of
dangerous Western “art” would

unsettle the boring, Islamic world
of my classmates – and elevate my

cowardly, chubby, unpopular
self. I whispered to the kid next to me

if he had ever heard of “Billie Jean”
and “Beat It”; if he knew anything at all

about the number one famous
star of our wicked enemy. “I love

Thriller! Aren’t the zombies so scary
in the music video! They’re so ugly!” His

boisterous words echoed. The bus
vibrated with the singer’s name. Another

shouted he had a Thriller poster, and
another, a “Billie Jean” T-shirt, a gift from

Turkey. Silenced, robbed of my planned
stardom, I sank in my seat; later threw out my

Thriller tape, the fetish of Great Satan’s
useless, ubiquitous popular culture.

The Dervish

Schemas and schedules. The price
or the worth? Chant of recalcitrance

from solitary sandstone minaret
protruding from the promenade

patched with bikini girl billboards. This
modernity, fringed, at times punctured

by the intransigent “Real”––the hidden
conspiring to cause havoc? Strategies

and methodologies; scaffolding
and Content-Based Instruction: chains

to contain the “backward” menace
of veiled women and rosary-fiddling

unemployed, unshaven men. This
modernity––an intensive course designed

by squadrons of directors––shivers. Manuals
and handbooks; policies and procedures

can’t abate the horror of the superstitious.
Regulations are no match for religion

in spite of the sheen of Ataturk’s wellingtons
or the threat of Uncle Sam’s bomb-

bearing promulgations. The fear of
an incipient blotch of black Islamic ink

creeping from the centre of the fabric
of the secularists’ fantasy flag, can it be

* * *

assuaged by probation and invigilation;
supervision and castigation? Utterly exhausted

I forget why I’m paying for “progress”
with my freedom. Ah, how joyous

the howl of someone praising something
called Allah; this soothing, primitive growl.

The War

Are you sure my tears are righteous, not
apocryphal, or a crocodile’s? Consider this

woman’s: a victim of vaginal mutilation
a refugee from an Islamist hellhole in Africa

her frank indignation and now her élan
at winning the lucrative job of the “native

informant” to the “War on Terror.” In truncated
form: her anger at being circumcised by her vicious

grandmother, alibi for Westerners’ furious
incineration of much of the Middle East. Is

this anything but invidious, my desire to hurt
because I’ve been hurt? Many more thousand

deaths to atone for her sliced clitoris? Titular
“liberated feminist activist,” star of Western media

what does she or I propose should be done with
the traduced Muslims who do nasty things e.g. hate

Israelis, wear chador instead of flashing their
(monstrously unshaven) legs and thighs? Burn

them? With cluster bombs, bunker-busters,
tactical nukes? Grafting concern for women’s rights

onto an Imperialist quest to sequester the planet’s
“black gold” fields: our mercenary’s curriculum vitae

in short. And what about the wails of the war-torn
harmonising with the salvos at makeshift funerals

* * *

across Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine,
Somalia, Lebanon, Chechnya, etc? Well, we won’t

hear of them. We’ve had our ears blocked, watching
TV, entranced by one to three languid, shiny tears

wringed by the camera from the Rasputin eyes
of the “good Arab” defector who says she loves

democracy and freedom, who vindicates this war.

from La Pucelle: The Epic of Joan of Arc

––Listen my Prince. This is important. I could feel
the dew setting on the leaves and petals of lilies and camellias.

I was aware of the soil’s moisture being
absorbed by the roots of hollies and cedars. I could smell

the aroma of blooming jasmine and carnations. I could
taste the sweetness of wild berries and apples that hadn’t

ripened yet. My finger could already stroke the creeping
ivy that had not yet covered the oaks. And the immense moon

the heart of the vast mother nature, vitality
desire filling the universe from it…by God I was

so terrified to be there, alone, a lost little girl
in the presence of such greatness, and the white circle

was getting larger, expanding, devouring me
I was drowning in the heavenly brightness. What was

happening to me? The moon was now the shape
of an infinitely huge person’s face. No, don’t look at me

like that! By God I’m not lying. I saw this
huge face before me, a ghost, or a fairy, or a monster

whose eyes were a hundred stars, whose smile
the entire horizon, and I was on my knees by now

shivering, about to faint. I was screaming. Brightness
above the thing’s head, I couldn’t tell horns or

* * *

halo, glistening. Had a gigantic sword. And I
closed my eyes. I can’t believe how horrified I was. I thought

this thing, a demon, would kill me with its sword
but when I closed my eyes I saw, my Prince, I tell you

the truth: I saw houses burning, cities burning, countries
burning I saw hundreds of hundreds of soldiers of an unholy

empire destroying me, destroying the village, and
the whole world. I can’t remember if I saw anything more

that night before I collapsed after the first visitation
by Catherine of Alexandria herself, Matron Saint of Maidens.

––Well, no, I’m not mad. That’s what Mama thought
after one of my brothers found me passed out. She

became so angry. And vicious. When she found out
I hadn’t been to the stupid ceremony at the Hermitage

she lost her mind. She first broke a wooden ladle
on my back, then started whacking me with a broom

screaming: Jeannette, useless girl. Sick girl.
Shameful girl. After all I’ve done for you.
Of course

I didn’t tell her what exactly I’d seen in the woods.
She would’ve said I was possessed by the Devil. I cried

for so many days, weeks, because now beautiful
Marguerite, all my friends, had been confirmed

as young women, started going to the village dances
without their parents, and they never took me. I don’t

know why I was all of a sudden so hated by everyone
and I kept getting so, so many pimples . . . no, I won’t

* * *

bore you with that my Prince. But you need to know
that I started going to the church frequently, and

started praying to the statue of Saint Catherine. I took
flowers, bread and wool to the alter, fasted every Friday

and said Pater Noster, Ave Maria and Credo in Mass
every Sunday. I confessed to our priest every week, then

every day. I spoke to Saint Catherine when there was
no one in the church. I knelt on the altar floor in the weak,

shimmering light of the votive candles and begged Her
to guide me. I wanted Mama to love me again. I wanted

Marguerite to stop flirting with idiot boys and ask me
over to her house to spin wool. And the serene statue

of Saint Catherine remained silent and looked on
as I cried. I tried to imagine what it’d be like if Her spirit

could hear me. I didn’t know I had just been visited by
the noble Saint. I was so sad, my Prince, so lonely