A poem for you on the last day of Nowruz

Today is the last day of Nowruz (Iranian New Year), called “13 Bedar” which means something like “getting rid of the 13th”. I wrote a poem for you, in 13 parts:

1. my grandparents live in Khorasan their marriage was arranged they grow sour cherries in their garden when we visit they make meatless dishes

2. in Iran you have to step into traffic that looks like it will hit you and if you don’t then you will never cross the street

3. when I smell gasoline I think of Tehran

4. my parents met in Berkeley at meetings of leftist expats hoping for the revolution that never came to Iran

5. my mom was Rafiq Niloofar that means comrade my dad was the consummate liberal he kept them honest and had good taste in socialists

6. my family moved to Illinois instead of LA figuring they’d rather be around white people than Persians turns out there are LA Persians everywhere

7. in elementary school I was embarrassed to invite my friends over bc I knew my mom would bring out fruit and not fruit rollups

8. when that South Park about the Persians came out I was grateful just to be depicted as tacky effeminate buffoons and not terrorists

9. after 3 seasons of Shahs of Sunset I have changed my mind

10. when I was 14 my grandparents gave me a gold Iran shaped necklace I don’t wear it anymore I don’t like to reinforce the stereotype that Iranians love gold

11. “I am Persian” means “I am distancing myself from the government of Iran” “I’m Iranian” means “don’t bomb it”

12. my mom loses friends over politics she’s ok with it I think I turned out a little more like her than she intended

13. we got fish for Nowruz it broke her heart to throw them in the lake on 13 bedar thinking it’s too bad they won’t live but then again who does

A poem for Chelsea Manning on her birthday

US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning turns 27 in prison today, serving 35 years for leaking proof of torture and other US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the eve of her show trial in summer 2013, I wrote this poem for Chelsea (then known as Bradley).

As I explained in that post, I’d been reading a lot of Adorno: The title is a reference to his infamous dictum that “to write a poem after Auschwitz would be barbaric”, while the epigraph is a quote from a poignant passage in Dialectic of Enlightenment about the knowing resignation with which Americans accept their powerlessness in the capitalist economy.

We’ve let Chelsea down, and we’ll let her down every day of our lives until we honor her actions by our own courage to seek justice.

“No poems after Auschwitz”

KS 6/1/2013

It’s a free country

But freedom has rules:

You can say what you want about the Market

but if you don’t play ball

you’re not one of us.

We don’t leak the wrong footage

of the wrong Apache helicopters

swarming over Baghdad

picking off civilians like flies.

And on a rainy Tuesday in November

every four years

we pick Dear Leader

like free people do.

You’ll never change the world.

But to those who will try –

The risk you bear is

unspeakable

it’s terrifying

 

I am a failure, sagt der Amerikaner. – And that is that.

A poem for Bradley Manning

Today, June 1, is the international day of solidarity with Bradley Manning, the US Army whistleblower charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. Among other things, the leaked documents exposed Bush-era war crimes, including running torture centers and death squads in Afghanistan and Iraq. The response of the Obama administration has been ruthless, charging Manning with “aiding and abetting” Al Qaeda and imprisoning him for over 1,000 days without trial. He has been held in solitary confinement for much of that time, prompting the UN special rapporteur on torture to denounce his treatment as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.

The most notorious of the leaks was this video footage of a 2007 US airstrike in Baghdad, dubbed “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks, which shows helicopters massacring a group of unarmed men (including two Reuters war correspondents) with the chilling glee of someone playing a video game. At a pretrial hearing in February, Manning said that, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables, this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.” That debate has yet to occur, and the culture of bloodlust and impunity surrounding every act of state violence, past and present, remains intact.

As I struggled to come to terms with our silence, I wrote this poem for Bradley. At the time, I was deeply immersed in the work of Theodor W. Adorno. The title refers to Adorno’s dictum that “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric”: After the horrors of fascism and the Holocaust, it’s clear that achieving the height of culture hasn’t civilized us. On the contrary, it has distracted from, and rationalized, our other achievement – the apex of our disregard for individual human life. The poem’s epigraph is a quote from a passage in Dialectic of Enlightenment about Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s impressions of Americans (Since the English in the quote is also in English in the original, I’ve left the German words [sagt der Amerikaner, “the American says”] untranslated). Americans, they write, judge their self-worth based on their market value; they aren’t ignorant of their powerlessness in the capitalist economy, nor do they celebrate it – rather, they accept it.

We’ve met with willful indifference the actions of a young man whose courage and plight should’ve been a wake-up call to a nation that claims to value human rights and freedom. We – not only the government, not only the media, but we, the people of the United States – have let him down.

“No poems after Auschwitz”

KS 6/1/2013

 

It’s a free country

 

But freedom has rules:

You can say what you want about the Market

but if you don’t play ball

you’re not one of us.

 

We don’t leak the wrong footage

of the wrong Apache helicopters

swarming over Baghdad

picking off civilians like flies.

 

And on a rainy Tuesday in November

every four years

we pick Dear Leader

like free people do.

 

You’ll never change the world.

But to those who will try –

The risk you bear is

unspeakable

it’s terrifying

 

I am a failure, sagt der Amerikaner. – And that is that.

For Rosa Luxemburg

Today, Jan. 15, is the anniversary of the death of Rosa Luxemburg, the revolutionary activist and thinker murdered in cold blood, along with Karl Liebknecht and thousands of German leftists, by Weimar Germany’s ruling Social Democrats in 1919. My friend Uwe Ness wrote a short poem in celebration of Rosa and what she means to the left, in Germany and around the world. The poem is a response of sorts to Luxemburg’s saying, “I feel at home in the whole world, wherever there are clouds, birds, and the tears of people.” I’ve translated it into English for his outstanding blog, and I’m posting it here so that I can share it with you all:

“For My Party”
by Uwe-Jürgen Ness
 
Every leaf that falls
is worth seeing,
to feel that it is and that it was.
 
Every leaf that falls
from the tree on which it hung
is life.
 
Within every leaf that falls
there is so much life,
that it almost makes you sorry
to tread over it.
 
It is life.
It is, in times of greatest crisis,
where it beats and flows,
the life, the blood, the heart. On the LEFT.

Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss” (my translation)

The great German author and poet Günter Grass has come under fire in Germany, Israel and increasingly the US for this bold poem about German complicity in Israeli violence. I couldn’t find a structurally faithful translation, so here’s mine:

“Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”) – Günter Grass

Why have I remained silent – too long, silent –

on something so foreseeable, played out in so many simulations,

at the end of which we as survivors

are inevitably footnotes.

It is the supposed right to first strike

that can destroy an Iranian people

who have been subordinated to the will of hawks

and government-controlled enthusiasm,

because of allegations that a nuclear missile was being

constructed within their nation’s borders.

Why then do I hold myself back

from mentioning the name of that other nation

which for many years – if also clandestinely –

has been a developing nuclear capacity,

shielded from oversight by its

inaccessibility to inspectors?

I find the general concealment of this state of affairs,

having subordinated my silence to its cause,

to be an incriminating lie

and coercion that announces the threat of punishment

as soon as it is undermined;

the common verdict, “anti-Semitism”.

Now, because my land,

the land of inherited wrongdoing,

we who are incomparable,

who have time after time been reined in and taken to task,

purely businesslike, even if

we quick of tongue declare it reparations,

will once more send to Israel

another U-Boot whose specialty

lies in its ability to deliver all-annihilating warheads

to a place in which the existence

of a single nuclear weapon remains unproven,

rather, remains a speculation about evidence,

I say what must be said.

Why, however, did I remain silent until now?

Because I believed that my heritage,

marked by permanent blemish,

forbade me to expect acknowledgement

of this reality

from the state of Israel, to whom I am bound

and will remain so.

Why do I only now say,

older and with my last ink:

Israel’s nuclear capabilities jeopardize

the already fragile global peace?

Because that must be said,

for which tomorrow may be too late;

also because we – as Germans, burdened enough –

could become suppliers of a foreseeable transgression,

because of which our sense of complicity

would find no relief

through the usual excuses.

And admittedly: I am silent no more,

because the hypocrisy of the West

disgusts me; furthermore, it is worth hoping for

that many may free themselves of their silence,

demand that the initiators of the apparent danger

abandon violence and

likewise also demand

that an unrestricted and permanent inspection

of Israeli nuclear capabilities

and the Iranian nuclear situation

through international authority

be allowed by the governments of both countries.

Only this way can everyone, the Israelis and the Palestinians,

all people who live,

packed tightly and pitted against one another,

in this region occupied by illusion,

and finally we ourselves, find a way forward.