Mimi Khalvati


Ghazal: It’s Heartache

When you wake to jitters every day, it's heartache. Ignore it, explore it, either way, it's heartache. Youth's a map you can never refold, from Yokohama to Hudson Bay, it's heartache. Follow the piper, lost on the road, whistle the tune that led him astray: it's heartache. Stop at the roadside, name each flower, the loveliness that will always stay: it's heartache. Why do nightingales sing in the dark? Ask the radif, it will only say ‘it's heartache’. Let khalvati, ‘a quiet retreat’, close my ghazal and heal as it may its heartache.


after Hafez However large earth's garden, mine's enough. One rose and the shade of a vine's enough. I don't want more wealth, I don't need more dross. The grape has its bloom and it shines enough. What can Paradise offer us beggars and fools? What ecstasy, when wine's enough? Come and sit by the stream. Rivers run dry but to carry their song, a chine's enough. Like the sun in bazaars, streaming in shafts, any slant on the grand design’s enough. When you're here, my love, what more could I want? Just mentioning love in a line's enough. Heaven can wait. To have found, heaven knows, a bed and a roof so divine’s enough. I’ve no grounds for complaint. As Hafez says, isn't a ghazal that he signs enough?

On a Line from Foroogh Farrokhzad

It had rained that day. It had primed a world with gold, pure gold, wheatfield, stubble and hill. It had limned the hills as a painter would, an amateur painter, but the hills were real. It had painted a village lemon and straw, all shadow and angles, cockerel, goats and sheep. It had scattered their noises, bleats and blahs, raising a cloud, a white dog chasing a jeep. It had travelled through amber, ochre, dust and dust the premise of everything gold, dust the promise of green. Green there was but in the face of a sun no leaf could shield. It had rained that day. It was previous, previous as wind to seed. O wild seed, as these words proved: ‘The wind will carry us’ – bad mara khohad bord – and it did.

Ghazal: The Candles of the Chestnut Treesl

I pictured them in the dark at night – the candles of the chestnut trees. Their name alone made them self-ignite – the candles of the chestnut trees. I pictured them in the pouring rain as they really are, pink-tinged on white – the candles of the chestnut trees. How many there are and each the same! same shape and colour, angle, height – the candles of the chestnut trees. Seen from below, most unseen, they throw no shadow, cast no light – the candles of the chestnut trees. I saw how distance matters more than nearness, clearness, to see upright the candles of the chestnut trees. Inspired by Christ the apple tree, I looked for a figure to recite the candles of the chestnut trees. Lacking faith, I could do no more than find a refrain to underwrite the candles of the chestnut trees. As May drew on, the more I saw, the more they lost that first delight – the candles of the chestnut trees. I’ve searched for sameness all my life but Mimi, nothing’s the same despite the candles of the chestnut trees.

Don't Ask me, Love, for that First Love

after Faiz Ahmed Faiz Don't think I haven't changed. Who said absence makes the heart grow fonder? Though I watch the sunset redden every day, days don't grow longer. There are many kinds of silence, none more radiant than the sun's. Sun is silent in our presence, unlike love, silent when it's gone. I thought that every spring was you, every blossom, every bud; that summer had little to do but follow, singing in my blood. How wrong I was. What had summer to do with sorrow in full spate? Every rosebush, every flower I passed, stood at a stranger's gate. Weaving through our towns, centuries of raw silk, brocade and velvet have swilled the streets in blood. Bodies, ripe with sores in lanes and markets, are paying with their lives. But I had little time for the world's wars, love was war enough. In your sky, your eyes, were all my falling stars. Don't ask me, though I wish you would and I know you won't, for more tears. Why build a dam at Sefid Rud if not to water land for years? Though we'll never see the olives, ricefields, shelter in an alcove from the sun, in our time, our lives have more to answer to than love.

Come Close

Come close the flower says and we come close, close enough to lift, cup and smell the rose, breathe in a perfume deep enough to find language for it but, words having grown unkind, think back instead to a time before we knew what we know now. When every word was true and roses smelt divine. What went wrong? Long before the breath of a cradle song. Some lives fall, some flower. And some are granted birthrights, a verandah, a sunken quadrant of old rose trees, a fountain dry as ground but still a fountain, in sense if not in sound. Like a rose she slept in the morning sun. Each vein a small blue river, each eyelash shone. The above poems are taken from The Meanest Flower (Carcanet 2007), except for ‘Don’t Ask Me, Love for that First Love’, from The Chine (Carcanet 2002)