Letter to a Warrior

A Poem by Athena Farrokhzad, trans. Jennifer Hayashida

August 2, 2016  By Athena Farrokhzad
1


Monologue written for Swedish Radio Drama published in the Family issue of Freeman’s

 

My child, kicking warrior, little life inside my stomach.

In a few months you will finally arrive in the world.

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If the contractions began now there would be a chance to save

you.

I feel your movements reproduced inside me.

Like a wave that flows and as quickly ebbs again.

Like the fin of a fish suddenly breaking a calm surface.

 

Opposite the bed I have mounted pictures of you.

The first thing I see when I wake is your black and white

silhouette.

The last thing I see when I fall asleep is you resting inside me like

a half-moon.

 

Packages for you arrive in the mail from other continents.

That someone can be so loved before their birth.

That someone can change me before they have begun to exist. That someone can

occupy so much space before they intervene in

the world.

 

I don’t know what you will look like.

I don’t know with what pain I will deliver you.

I don’t know who you will become or what you will make me. I don’t know what our days together will be like.

I don’t know when our nights will drive me insane.

 

I wonder if you will be born with hair on your head.

I wonder if your heart will beat with a rhythm that worries me.

I wonder if you will begin your life silently or with a scream.

I wonder if the umbilical cord will be coiled as a sign around your

body.

I wonder if your gaze will see through me from the beginning.

I wonder if my conception of mothers will change when I become

one.

 

I have no inheritance for you.

No china, no paintings, no lace cloth, no jewelry.

I have nothing that has been passed between generations.

For you belong to families that have abandoned everything.

That have left with nothing.

Neither of your parents grew up in the same place as their

parents.

We have nothing to pass on, since nothing has been passed on to us.

Nothing except stories about decisive hands.

 

We have stories about the fight that precedes you.

We have stories about the struggles that enabled us to survive.

So we one day could give you life.

We have stories about where we come from.

We have stories about which battle fields brought us here.

Here to the place that will soon be yours.

 

I traveled with your father to your grandmother’s hometown.

We went to a park where the names of the dead are written.

There were thirty thousand.

They were arranged alphabetically.

When the same last name was repeated I understood.

An entire group of siblings had been annihilated.

I held your father’s hand when he threw roses into the river.

In the park I understood something about your aunt’s poems.

When she writes about carrying the names of the dead as

talismans it is not a symbol.

Your grandmother pointed out the names to us in the park.

 

She named her children after all her dead.

She named them after sweethearts and comrades.

She gave them the names of the dead because something was

already lost.

Because death in all its futility would at least serve as protection.

Your father said his ashes should be scattered in the park one day.

To be reunited with all the dead.

For his death will remain tied to theirs.

For it will belong to the place they were forced to leave.

It was when I saw your father cry in the park that I understood

you were possible.

 

For a love that does not contain such grief cannot give rise to life.

For a desire that does not know history can break us cannot be

dwelled in.

For a future that does not tend to such defeats I have no faith in.

 

I wonder if you will be the first who is allowed to remain.

If you will end your life in the same place as it begins.

If you will call a place home and not see it devastated.

If you will bury us in a place you can return to.

Or if you must also bid a hasty farewell that turns out to be final.

If you must also stand by prison gates and wait.

If someone will stand outside and wait for you.

If someone will search for your name in lists of the dead.

If all suffering one day will be placed in relation to a freedom gained.

 

My child, kicking warrior, little life inside my stomach.

I will teach you the language of the dead so you will remember

why they disappeared.

I will sing you lullabies I barely master.

If you do not understand your grandmother’s chants she will have

fought for nothing.

If you do not know your aunts’ songs their struggle will end with you.

 

I am afraid something will end with you.

If it ends with you I don’t know how we will recognize ourselves in

each other.

I hope something will end with you.

If it does not end with you I don’t know how long it will continue.

 

There are so many ways to be annihilated.

One way is to die of bullets and lashes of the whip.

Another is to destroy yourself because you didn’t.

Like your uncle who against all odds evaded the hands of

repression.

He who fled and told me how escape routes became dead ends.

He who told me who had gotten married and who had been

unfaithful.

He who showed me where I should place my feet not to slip down

the mountain.

Then he took one pill too many and never woke again.

I who promised him that one day we would return and make

victory signs.

I who imagined how we would lean back and toast each other.

I know that grief is the price of love.

I know that even the earth will go someday.

I know that one either buries or is buried by those one loves.
But his shoes still stand in the hallway waiting for him to awaken.

It was when I kissed his cold forehead that I understood you were

necessary.

 

Because love lives in flesh and not in stone.

Because if someone disappears someone else must become.

Because death is so inexplicable that it can only be soothed by

the inexplicability of life.

Because if we do not increase in any other way we must do so

through you.

 

Can there be lullabies that are not songs of struggle.

Can there be children’s hands not taught to form fists.

Can there be daughters not named after warriors.

Can there be reworks that do not evoke memories of gunshots.

Can there be games of tag that do not recall escape routes.

 

I am afraid I have nothing to offer you.

I am afraid the only thing I can console you with is stories of our

defeats.

I am afraid the only hope I can convey is about our delayed

victories.

I am afraid you will reject the stories, as I have rejected them.

I am afraid they are told in too many versions.

I am afraid the guilt is the same regardless if the stories are

swaddled or undressed.

I am afraid loss dedines us even though we cannot remember what

we have lost.

I am afraid our lives are conditioned by experiences inaccessible

to us.

I am afraid this is why we must continue to tell. I am afraid you will not want to listen.

I am afraid freedom will make you a stranger.

 

My child, kicking warrior, little life inside my stomach.

I push home a stroller and think that the next time you will be

asleep in it.

I assemble a crib and see you hoist yourself out of it.

I fold a onesie and imagine you crawling around in it.

I match socks and try to understand that this is the measure of

your feet.

 

I will dress you in our stories as mothers have dressed their

children for an eternity.

I will place your arms in our victories as a mail.

I will wrap your legs in our defeats as a shield.

I will arm you with stories to bear you when the ground gives

way.

 

Your grandmother joined the guerrillas when she was fifteen.

When she went underground she was carrying her first child.

When her mother knew the military was searching for her

daughter she cleaned the apartment.

She said that she didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of

seeing it dirty.

From her window she saw the helicopters going to dump the

corpses in the river.

In the square the mothers gathered to demand the return of their

disappeared children.

When your mother had crossed the border her father brought the

passport home.

So that someone else’s child could also be saved.

He continued to dream that there would be enough champagne

for everyone.

It was when I heard about the price of his exuberance that I

understood you were essential.

 

For there are traumas so defining that to move on would be a

betrayal.

For there are damages so decisive that they can only be left as

inheritance.

For there is grief so dumbfounding that it can only be told in

fragments.

 

We who consist of all these stories.

We who spoke with our cousins on crackling phone lines.

We who cried in airports during the summers.

We who knew what was concealed in the lining of the suitcase.

We who called our parents different names depending on who

wanted to know.

We who longed for a place that had never been ours.

We who were nostalgic for a time we had never experienced.

We who armed ourselves for battle fields already abandoned.

We who bandaged the wound before it had occurred.

Our only inheritance is stories we hope will exist when we no

longer do.

 

Your grandmother distributed flyers and agitated at the factories.

Your grandmother delivered babies during bombings until it was

her turn to give birth.

When she got married the taxi driver was a witness since

everyone had gone underground.

When she returned she packed her suitcase full of bananas for her

nieces and nephews.

Her brother remained even though everyone else had left.

He did not want to live anywhere other than the place that had

robbed him of life.

They planted weapons in his office so he would be unable to

prosecute his cases.

Thirty years later he said that he should also have left.

That he had hidden hope deep in his closet until it withered like

a plant.

Your grandfather spent nine years in a prison cell.

When I was a child he said that he was fed and didn’t have to pay

rent.

When I became older I read about the mock executions.

Your grandfather will never be the same and I don’t know who he

could have become.

It was when I realized he could not tell that I understood you

were critical.

 

For I wonder what it feels like to see oneself in a face regarded as

precious.

For I wonder what the changing seasons are like for someone who

is not in a place temporarily.

For I wonder what it feels like to have a body shaped by the earth

one treads on.

For I wonder what death means for someone with a grave to

visit.

My child, kicking warrior, little life inside my stomach.

I rub my skin so the sheath that surrounds you will stretch.

I practice breathing so I can bear the contractions when you rush

forth.

I learn that the pain is not dangerous so I should not be overcome

with fear.

I dismiss the thought that one of us will not make it.

I will kiss your feet and hope they will never have to cross a border.

I will wash your skin and imagine it will never be scarred.

I will speak your name and think of what its vowels will let you

bear.

I will tousle your hair and wonder where its blackness will take

you.

I will brush your teeth and hope they will never be knocked out.

 

What is quaking in the future erupts at the thought of your

stomach’s smallness.

What is baffling in the present appears when I see myself caress

your back.

What is cyclical in history blooms when I imagine your earlobes’

softness.

 

I will tell you about all your aunts.
Those who fought so I could decide it is now that I want you.

Those who struggled so we would both survive your arrival in the

world.

So the sheets would be clean.

So the midwife would be rested.

So no one would hurt you without punishment.

So I would have time to get to know you.

I will tell you about your aunts with their strollers leading the

demonstration.

Those who continued when police ordered them to stop.

Those who had bandages in their backpacks and lemon wedges in

their pockets.

Those who did things I cannot recount.

Those who dreamed of fields of flowers and awoke in prison cells.

Those whose experiences were never recognized as knowledge.

Those who survived even though they weren’t meant to.

I will tell you about your aunts who fostered the hatred that is in

service to love.

 

My child, kicking warrior, little life inside my stomach.

I will tell you about everyone who precedes you.

I will tell you why your life is connected to theirs.

I will tell you why they are not here to greet you when you

arrive.

I will tell you why you receive packages from other continents.

I will tell you about the walls that hold them hostage.

 

I will tell you about self-defense that cannot be punished.

I will tell you about movements that transform us into many.

I will tell you about history that will not be repeated.

I will tell you about abilities that give according to need.

I will tell you about victories that do not make us heroes.

 

I will tell you about the places you come from.

Where you come from the tanks cross the squares like

combines.

Where you come from escape routes become dead ends.

Where you come from the dying reach for each other with a

prayer for remembrance.

Where you come from the ambulances drive directly to the

morgues.

Where you come from the living are worth less than what their

hands have made.

Where you come from the present rhymes with history like

syllables in a poem.

Where you come from the rivers are cemeteries.

Where you come from the cobblestones are memorials.

Where you come from the pro ts are individual and the debt

collective.

 

Where you come from we have supported what has destroyed us

for too long.

Where you come from we have left our mothers’ houses.

Where you come from we have realized that the road leads to our

executioners’ houses.

Where you come from we have thrown gravel into the machinery.

Where you come from we have discovered that the factory turns

gravel into grease.

Where you come from no courtroom can give us restitution.

Where you come from even we have taken our testimony as

perjury.

 

My child, kicking warrior, little life inside my stomach.

You have a face that resembles mine, one I have not yet seen.

You are the future present here.

You are an unknown promise.

You come into being independently of me, a condition for your

creation.

You are foreign and my continuation by other means.

You renegotiate my dependence.

You displace my limit.

The frailty that is life appears through you.

The connection between us grows with every movement.

The body I have been alone in I share with you.

But I have never been alone in this body.

It has always been connected to other bodies.

To other stories that you will hear when you arrive.




Athena Farrokhzad
Athena Farrokhzad
Athena Farrokhzad was born in 1983 and lives in Stockholm. She is a poet, literary critic, translator, playwright, and teacher of creative writing. Her first volume of poetry, Vitsvit (White Blight, Argos Books, translation: Jennifer Hayashida), was published in 2013 by Albert Bonniers Förlag. In 2016, her second volume of poetry, Trado, written together with the Romanian poet Svetlana Cârstean, was published.







  • Bob J.

    “Where you come from the present rhymes with history like

    syllables in a poem.

    Where you come from the rivers are cemeteries.

    Where you come from the cobblestones are memorials.

    Where you come from the pro ts are individual and the debt

    collective.

    Where you come from we have supported what has destroyed us

    for too long.

    Where you come from we have left our mothers’ houses.

    Where you come from we have realized that the road leads to our

    executioners’ houses.”

    Wow… I’m absolutely blown away… speechless



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