In this edition of the student spotlight we will be featuring a series of poems by Marjan Zarifi.
What is your artwork about? What is your objective in this piece?
The poems I wrote come from my personal experiences experiencing diaspora as an Afghan-Canadian, while also taking into consideration the experiences of the people of the Middle East whose families constantly survive the chaos often brought by and misconstrued by the West and their apathetic media. The objective was to remove this anger in me growing up and witnessing manipulate narratives around the Muslim, and conflicts from the Middle East, yet it still remains.
The first poem is with regards to assimilatory processes that immigrants face as newcomers to Western countries and how they must conform to Eurocentric styles of living even though they will always be cast as an outsider.
The second poem deals with learning to establish new roots when living in the diaspora, and the struggles that come along with it. It’s dedicated to all immigrant mothers really, drawing inspiration from my mom’s life and how she worked hard to move past the barriers and traumas she faced, so we can build life anew. Despite all the weathering, my mother stands tall in her beauty and grace, without complaint, and this is something I find common within many parents.
The third piece deals with western apathy towards the people living through war, as it is often shaped as a distant issue of little importance because we do not see the pain and suffering of war-torn countries in our day-to-day lives. I wrote this to deal with the helplessness of just standing by and watching videos of children from all over the region being traumatized and killed by war, and what I wish I could say to them.
The fourth piece speaks of the shared experiences of countries undergoing conflict, especially since the “War on terror”, and the West’s complicity in destroying cultures, histories, and lives.
The final poem speaks on how I feel to always have my family’s and my experiences dismissed in favour of a narrative of the West being saviors. The purpose of this poem was to detail that despite what you do or say to us, the power of spirit is stronger than any materialistic power you may hold.
Why did you decide to write it? What or who influenced the creation of this piece?
Different factors influenced the creation of the various poems, but what drove me to write the poems, in general, was to advocate who cannot advocate for themselves. When it comes to discussing assimilation imposed on immigrants, and the barriers they face, my mother did not have the time to spare to write on her experiences, as she had to support us instead. So I write this for her. I wrote for the children of Afghanistan, of Syria, of Palestine, who have so much potential and greatness but their voices are left unheard. I wrote for my grandparents who never left, and who never learned to read or write, but to whose oral stories I hold onto tightly. I feel the constant burden of guilt for having social capital and not being able to do anything of great change, so I thought this might be the first step towards making some form of change.
Do you have a personal connection to this piece?
The pieces are personal to me as they are the thoughts that often cloud my mind, and being able to write them down and express the troubles of war and how it affects people living within those countries but those of us who no longer have the ability to live in our land
How does this piece relate to broader society? Why is it important right now?
The mistreatment of immigrants and islamophobia all derive from colonialism which is the prevailing cause of many of the issues racialized groups encounter. The lack of acceptance and blatant ignorance breed hate that allows for hateful statements and acts. This only makes it harder for people who have given up the lands of their ancestors to find a chance to rebuild their lives. Intersections between these issues and that of anti-Black racism, Asian hate and Indigenous discrimination can be found because it revolves around people’s ignorance and Eurocentric beliefs of racial superiority.
What do you hope readers will take away from this piece?
I hope that readers can take away that we need to educate ourselves more on issues that extend past ourselves and our experiences so that we can learn to be more empathetic and active towards people who are often silenced and ignored because of the oppressive circumstances they encounter.
The Hospitality of the West
Welcome and bienvenue to your new country
First you must wash yourself wash yourself of the dirt that is your culture and skin
Like a child playing in dirt, so infantile…
No one wishes to smell the scent of the sun nor the scent of the mountains
No, to fit into the industrialized area for which you will dedicate your life to
You must wash yourself in the mass produced parfum of bleach
Scrub until you fit into the norms of our people
Until the scent of your foreign unbelonging disappears
Until you cannot differentiate, erased from who you once were
No scent of the rosemary nor saffron nor the scent of foods cooked and places seen, precisely
That if your parents closed their eyes, you would be lost and forgotten
For is that not why you are here, lost child?
Thousands of miles away from where you are supposed to be?
Drink it like it is blessed water
For no one wishes to hear your ancient lullabies nor your dedicated speech nor your sorrows nor your joys nor your regrets nor your shers nor your calls to prayer nor your melancholy nor your nostalgia… nor your loneliness
Nor your rage
Nor your suffering
Nor your screams to stop hearing
Speak English! English! English! like a drill sergeant, they, we mutter
With our closed mouths and grilling eyes
Some with open mouth and raging eyes that see nothing but difference and threat
No one wants to hear anything from you
For you are like vermin near the white picket fence the fathers of our father built
After years of washing away the blood they spilt to hammer in each picket.
It is trouble to our ears, we wish to continue mowing our lawns and climbing the ladder set perfectly for us in life
We do not care for your dimmed eyes
You either accept our ways or go back to drone kissed skies.
Your sight is unsettling
For even when we sanitize your filth
You will always have the imprints
That you are not us.
For you are separate from us
Even if the ground we walk upon is green
Even if the sky we stare upon has the same clouds dancing before our eyes.
You will never belong.
Sincerely, your next door neighbor
My grandfathers garden
You can’t tear a rose from its roots and expect it to grow in
The ice kissed concrete
Of this foreign ground
Maybe it would’ve been easier
For the gardener to help you prosper
To nurture you, to allow you to know your roots and to be held securely whenever you faltered
No, uprooted from your bed you had to survive
Your purity was coupled with the passion of violence you felt everyday
The waters of the valleys couldn’t bless your soil
Instead constantly blood and ice found themselves in your roots
To match the violence that tore you apart
As a youth, you dress yourself in elegant thorns
Yet here you are
In all your beauty
To be met with the words of “exotic”
You lay your seeds in this same unwelcoming ground
Away from the garden, with no petit prince to protect you
Hoping instead of blood comes water
For us seedlings to become climbing roses
You have lost your gardener
But your beauty is unmatched in this world where everything is tainted and infertile
In this world
My beautiful rose
The ode of the lost child
I am more than the faceless body on the ground
I am more than little boy crying for his mother, lost to a drone
I am more than the traumatized girl, ears bleeding from a nearby bomb
This not me.
Don’t you see oh humanity?
You think I’m not you
And you are not me
A few bombs would help you see
But that would never be
I would never wish that on you
You could never go through what I went through
I was not always rubble
I was not always dirty and bleeding
I used to sleep under a blanket of cotton
Now I sleep, soundlessly, under crushed cement
The bits of rubble and shards stick to me
Like cotton candy on my fingers at festivals long ago
I call on you
I cried to you
Yes, I did
Yet you looked away
You were scared of me
When I have done nothing
But be scared and try to survive
To try to let my siblings
My baba live
I wanted it all
I wanted life
Yet you only thought about yourself
I am the one who fears
Not the one to be feared
But my will to live is fearsome
I will survive
Like my brothers and sisters before me
When they find my rubble
Pieces of me
Hear the tabla beat in my heart
Stronger than the song of any drone or fire shot at me
I will not be here
But the sound of my cries, my dreams, my living nightmare,
I promise you
You will hear
So play deaf right now
You will go deaf by my screams
I’ll find you lost child
I’d sell my soul for you
Dear child that hasn’t grown
I will offer you my skin to keep you warm
Break my back to keep the ceilings from caving in on you
I will protect you from these monsters
Just like my mother did for me
I will protect you
No matter how far you are from me
I will save you
That is my promise
I’d give my soul to iblis himself
If it meant that you could be with your family
For a few moments that this mortal life can give
To see a smile on your face
Clean off any dust or blood
No Ivs strapped to you
Just string of a helium balloon
That marks your highness
I’d sell it all
You are stronger than any misleading leader or weapon of peace
You’re made from the blood of our ancestors, our grandparents
We’re made to endure
You can do this.
You’re of our people, child.
No wind or storm can move our mountains
Don’t say good bye yet, you haven’t learned the words yet, you’re too young
I beg you.
– For Aylan 2015
United we stand, Divided we fall
All my nations
We fell together
We all fell
Because you others, you pushed us
You strangled us for the blood that drives you
Until every last drip was kept,
Our blood is rich isn’t it
So prosperous you will grow from it
All my nations fell
Yet there will be a time, where the fallen will rise.
When the dead outweigh the living
Who will win then,
When we rise?
We who fell at different times
In different places
Singing the same old song
The people of my country of red, black and green
Where landmines are older than the children they kill
Chants of pains that transcends the tongue of Rumi
Syrians are familiar with the melody as they cry it out in Arabic
The Iraqi children hear tune in the distance as they hide from bullets that number the sands of the Sahara
The Palestinians whistle softly to the beat as it is an old song of tradition now
Civilizations were born from us
And the civil wars you brought to us,
your uncivilized treaties, declarations and accords were the death of us
Like water to wine,
Buildings become rubble
Our precious land that existed before biblical times,
Before Jesus roamed the streets
We all fell.
And you still mourn two towers
When I have to mourn millions and millions dead.
We have no towers
You helped destroy them
You helped destroy us
Our history, our land, our people
You’re mistaken if you don’t think I’ll never forget that day
6 years old, you declared war on a non-existent enemy
In the wrong country
You killed my people
You mourned your dead as you began your war on terror
I mourned the beginning of the end of all my people
Children and grown alike
You killed my country.
I won’t forget
No I won’t.
You’ll never let us.
I count the dead every day
You who implants the seeds of the Land mines
Land of the dead do mind.
I lose mine
– From the boys and girls who we lose daily with your forgotten landmines
Hold thy peace
How can I hold my peace?
If you have it in the grip of your hand
Squeezing tightly as you search for the oil in the sands
You tell me it’s my people that are the enemy
When they are the only people that see me
As a girl, a woman, a human, and not a weapon of mass destruction
Because to you a piece of cloth, a foreign tongue or skin colour is a means of radical production
To you, my land is full of spilt blood and land mines
To me, it’s the land full of my blood line and is one that I can call mine
You tell me to keep thy peace
When you keep crushing me with the weight of your weapons as I am forced on my knees
To beg and plead
“Save me, save me”
When it is only on my janamaz that I am on my knees
To beg and plead
To ask the lord
To leave me, leave me
And let my people free
From the chains and names you’ve been putting on us from ancient’s times
Before corrupt statesmen ruled over me, before with guns and tanks and sanctioned war crimes
Before the deployment of your camouflaged men,
When you still pledged allegiance to the king’s men
Whose scholarly works focused on the shahs men and of Islam, your specimens of research
Your so called Mohammeden’s
I’d never partake in your war
I will never dig deeper into my countries sores
While the red white and blue cloth imposes itself, in the skies it soars
High as the tower of babel
Your benevolence is a lightly veiled fable
You shoot the lions in us to silence our roars
In your war you say we are your brothers
Blood is thicker than water
But, they never asked about oil?
Entrenched deep into our soils, the true cause of your “moral” need to end our turmoil
How are you going to bring me freedom?
When all you do is add shackles to the wrists of men, who to injustice have become seasoned
When to hate that is which not a reflection of self, is your country’s indoctrination
To look at my people like an abomination
Your people’s intentional miseducation
Continues to justify the bombing of my nation
You say “never forget”
How can we? when you put our lives under constant threat
Call us the terrorists
When it is not you but I who has the marks of terror on her body and wrists
It could be worse
That’s the idea you try to force
Down my seizing throat
You wish to sacrifice us for yourselves like Abraham’s goat
But you keep my mouth shut because my silenced screams are ample
Here is another pill to kill the pain of the shrapnel
With blurred vision, all that is visible is the insignia of some corps
As a rough voice shouts the words often heard in colonial missions “We are your saviour”
This is simply the White Man’s Burden
“Your life, your lack thereof is ours to determine”.
Yet you will never attain what you wish to see
No white flag will be hanging over me
You may knock us down like dominoes
You may tear apart our blood stained clothes
You may turn our centuries old buildings into rubble
You may use your land mines to undermine our bodies and dehumanize us and our struggle
But still I ascend from amidst the dead and dust
Still I ascend, even if my body turns to rust
Still I ascend, through the ghost’s whispers of failure, broken promises and mistrust
Still I ascend, for my people and land, I must.