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New Hampshire Poet Showcase
From NH Poet Laureate, Pat Fargnoli

At my request, The NH Arts Council is providing me with a link to the poet laureate page on their website in order that I may showcase poems by a number of New Hampshire Poets. The poets will be by my invitation only, but I plan to include both the famous and the less famous ....those who are seriously working at poetry craft from many areas of the state. A different poet and poem will be presented every 2 weeks.

Featured Poet: Ala Khaki, Amherst

ala kahki“A native of Mashhad, Iran, and an American by choice, I have lived in the States since 1978.  I began writing poetry in high school, and became active in pro-democracy movement at the age of 16.  Arrested three times by the Shah’s secret police, and imprisoned twice for activities including underground distribution of my poetry, I had to leave Iran to avoid assassination.  From my past marriage, I have a daughter, Roxana, who is the rock on which my hope for humanity rests. My work has been published mainly in Persian literary journals such as “Par” (Feather), and Book Review.  I was honored to be a feature at the 2004 and 2005 New England Poetry Conference sponsored by UMASS Lowell.  Calling the Dawn, a selection of my Farsi poems was published in 1993.  In 2005, I published Return a selection of my English poems. Unpublished works include The Little Light, a novel for young adults, and  Coming of Age in Iran, an autobiography with Pamela Haji as co-writer.  Still active in promotion of democracy in Iran, and other life’s engagements permitting, I am translating Ms. Shahrnush Parsipur’s Prison Memoirs into English, American postmodernist poetry into Farsi, and working  on my second English  book of poetry  Walk on Fire with Me. “

Of the genesis of his showcase poem, Ala writes:

The day before I wrote this poem, I had been languishing in an over-crowded political prison, called Evin, situated in a military garrison outside Tehran, Iran.  Fourteen months had passed since I had been arrested for organizing a pro-democracy protest.  After two months of beatings, solitary confinement, and more beatings, I had been transferred to a 10 x 12 cell, occupied at times by more than 20 intellectuals.  In 1977 the Shah of Iran was being pressured by Jimmy Carter to loosen up his iron grip.  Apparently, I, among a small group of others, had been chosen to be let go to appease Carter.  Suddenly, I had been called out of my cell, blindfolded, taken to a room, given the clothes I had on the day I was arrested, blindfolded again, driven out on a van, and dropped in an unfamiliar street on the outskirts of Tehran.  The next morning, I got on a train to make the twenty-hour journey back to Mashhad.  As the train got further and further away from Tehran, I became more restless.  I got up and went to the corridor, and watched the vast plain pass by and the sky go from blue to orange-red, to black velvet studded by diamonds, the most beautiful I had ever seen.   I walked up and down that corridor for hours, though I was not well, suffering from some kidney problem I had developed at Evin.  Yet, illness and fatigue were no match for the hypnotic click-clacks over the rails, the peaceful sight beyond the window glass, and the exhilaration of the journey home.

Coming Home

In the moments of distress and regret
when my heart
was a desert,
and the sum of my being
your memory was
the melody of rain,
your name:
breeze, pennyroyal,
and dew.

In the helplessness of sorrow
when pain
was a mountain
on my chest
and wounds --
countless --
denied me any rest
I would retreat
to my mind,
wander in an oasis of memories
you under a tree
where you’d
in a sky blue sheet,
made of wefts of healing,
put my head
on your lap,
and sing a hushed love refrain
while caressing my hair.

nurtured by the honey of your eyes
lighter with each breath
than the breeze from the flutter
of butterfly wings
I would slip into a comfortable nap .

With memories of you
I would break from
my solitary hell
leave behind
steel, sentry, and wall
ride on the wind,
cross deserts
fall gently on a soft familiar soil
and sprout with wild mint
alongside the brook of your voice.

was always
a dark deep well
at the end of which
one didn’t know
if there was a mast
with a waiting rope,
a hatch to the same cell,
or a walkway
(lit by a faint hope)
to liberty, 
and your memory
the talisman
that held me back,
in a safe past,
so I wouldn’t fall.

Now, on a train
I am coming home
back to you again
free of any fear
of the well, steel, and wall
in disbelief of the slow passage
of this hellish year,
as if it was nothing
but nightmare.

14, February 1977
Updated 14, April 2006

Links to more information about Ala Khaki:

Click here for a list of previous Poet Showcases

Last updated: September 19, 2007

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