(An Untitled Letter)


13 minutes

So unreachable am I
that only love or death
can take me out of my orbit.
I revolve around a word
that empties other words.
My four seasons are all one season:

Mohsen Emadi

Part One

I think I've lost the ability to write anything but letters to myself. I used to write an essay in a day and put it on my site. Now I spend weeks writing singular poems just to hold them tightly to my chest. I just can't write essays anymore, what is left to say? Do we really need Marxism to understand that looking away from the houseless chips away at our souls like a kid throwing pebbles at a car? I honestly haven't read a lick of theory in a year, I just can't bring myself to do it anymore.

I've become increasingly bored with our fixation with "theory" at the expense of our own stories. I still feel like there is a taboo against memoir, both in writing and reading, that holds us back. Autobiography is a taboo I maintain for myself, because I'm still not ready to relive my life, but at least I know this.

And, admittedly, I'm still quite young, but, that is a point I reserve only for myself. I have gone through most of my life thinking everyone else has it figured out. I read stories like they're maps, trying to find other people's hard-won nuggets of wisdom. I've gone through most of my teens terrified of being a trope and terrified of repeating other people's mistakes. I'm slowly creeping up to 20, though, and I'm realizing that being afraid to repeat mistakes is a stone's throw away from being afraid to live.

And, really, it's been such a tragedy already to lose the ability to make my own mistakes. I drive exactly the speed limit or lower, I buckle my seat belt every time I drive, I never miss a turn signal, and I don't even roll at stops. I've been in two car accidents, both with my dad driving. Sometimes when I drive I get panic attacks. I get to watch others my age drive cars far less safe than those I drive, with far more speed, far more daring, far more recklessness. And, maybe, one day, they'll total their cars, but I've already been through two cars getting totaled, so I don't think I'm going to try it much more often.

Solmaz Sharif, one of our (Iranian-Americans) more successful poets, writes "Some days, I am almost happy having never \ lived there. \ To lose even the loss." Every few months, no, every few weeks, no, okay, every few days, I return to this phrase "lose even the loss". A four word phrase that can singularly explain so much of my life. I was watching the new Leftist Cooks video, "This is Not a Video Essay", and Neil goes:

"I am one of those people who no longer has a childhood home; my parents rented. The house I grew up in is gone. And my mother passed away when I was in my early twenties. You know the memory of a happy place you can never go back to?"

And, you see, I couldn't help but return to it, "lose even the loss". Because, even in childhood I did not have a home, there is no memory of a happy place for me to never go back to. I moved from Iran to Tucson, Arizona when I was three, and we moved three times when we were in Tucson, until moving to Columbus when I was 11. Then, I've moved four times in the eight years since then. I never had a childhood home to lose, I have lost even the loss.

I never knew my grandparents, I have such a weak connection to my extended family I barely find it worth mentioning. I don't even remember what years my grandfathers died.

And I've said it so many times that it sounds tired even coming out of my mouth. What a fucking cliche, right? Immigration, displacement, and isolation. I've gotten so good at communicating exile to non-exiles, I have it down to a script. I'm so good at explaining myself I have to stifle yawns while I watch people's faces contort in pity. Whatever. I'm a "1.5 generation" immigrant. First generation immigrants are those who come from one country to another, second generation immigrants are their children. I'm a 1.5 gen because I was born in Iran but came to America at a very young age.

My first language was Farsi, but nowadays I mostly think in English. I watch my own tenuous grasp on my heritage undermined by upper middle class Iranian-Americans who go on glorified tourist trips to a home country I come from but can not return to. "Have you even been back to Iran?" No. But, I've been to America, to so much of America. There is not a single inch of this country where I've felt like I fit in. But, despite it all, my interest in poetry was forged in spaces designed for African-Americans, not Iranian poetry nights. I was not introduced to Anis Mojgani by my own diaspora, but by Micah Bournes. Solmaz Sharif, too, I found in a profile done in Lux Magazine.

So, no, I haven't been back to Iran, but I'm trying my best to be here. In this city where there is only one place to get Iranian food, that has no seats and racist owners. In this city where the Iranians live in suburbs with average household incomes well above six figures. Where going back to Iran every year as a tourist takes precedence over women's lives, so they say "don't include me in pictures of the protest". I go to the Ohio State University's Persian Student Union meetings just to listen to the Zionist president crack sexist jokes.

I go to leftist spaces where the community agreement is "speak for yourself, not groups you're a part of", because it's implied that not all Iranians agree with me. And that's true, but while here revolution is a thought, a glimmer in our beautiful eyes, Iranians agree on and execute revolution. The Zionist OSU club president might want a right-wing monarchy where I want socialism, but we agree on revolution, this is no question.

See, American leftists think everyone fit their nice little ideological battles. We do disagree, yeah, but not on what they think we do. They're still discussing whether we should keep the (fascist) Islamic Republic because "Iran challenges American hegemony" while our families are dying in the streets. I watched a man, on nowruz, go to his son's grave, in the rain, and call his wife, just so she could talk to her dead son. Just so she could talk to his grave. That's my daily twitter feed, a constant reminder that I got out while my generation is canon fodder for fascism. Do you know what that's like? Because it does happen here. There's a reason why the SisterSong was one of the first to support the 2022 protests in the west. There is also a reason why many anti-Imperialism LARPing groups in the US have expressed no support or solidarity with Iranians. See, when solidarity is conditional on buying into your meta-narrative, it's not solidarity at all, it's just another head of imperialism.

There is no "choosing the lesser of two evils" in anti-imperialism. I do not care if "America is the most evil country in the world". What a useless statement, what an easy, uncomplicated life to lead. The truth of the matter is when Russia carpet bombs and levels Syrian cities, Syrians do not care about what country is the "most evil", they care about which one is killing them. While Russia, Iran, and Turkey conspire to continue acts of direct regional imperialism through military violence, American leftists pat themselves on their back for their non-action. Since when was looking away and closing your ears anti-imperialism? My anti-imperialism means solidarity with imperialized peoples, it is admitting to myself that I can not know the history of every region, and that the greatest skill I can have is learning how to navigate propaganda, truly listening, and to never play teams with the oppressors, always play on the side of the oppressed. Because for me, justice means making no compromises.

For so long every step I've taken
has been from one tongue to another.

To order the world:
I need, you need, he/she/it needs.

Do You Speak Persian, Kaveh Akbar

Part Two

I don't think I've ever been very good at writing letters to myself. Or, really, living with myself in general. I caught the flu last week, and it was cold outside, so I just...didn't leave my room...for nine days. And each day the idea of leaving felt scarier than the day before, so I just, didn't.

And, so, in my self-imposed isolation, too sick to even use my phone, I was forced to really be with myself. I'm three months into 2023 and I barely remember any of it. From the second the clock hit midnight till now I've been on a destructive streak and that doesn't mean I'm stopping now, because if it was that easy I would've stopped already.

But, it's a Monday morning, and every Monday morning brings with it a new beginning, and new hope, just to be disappointed by Friday.

So, I will start off strong, and fold my laundry. Maybe even go to the library, work for a few hours. And, by Wednesday, I'll either superficially have my life together or I won't. And, Wednesday by Wednesday, I will build myself back up, put the pieces back together.

Most mornings
No, not morning
Morning I am still new
still possible, I'm still possibly
Usually by 3:00

Beauty, Solmaz Sharif

Part Three

In permaculture design we use "guilds" - collections of plants that together form a symbiotic relationship. It is a more intensive form of companion cropping. Most permaculture guilds are inspired by nature - you can imagine one inspired by a forest: a taller canopy tree, some understory trees, then extra perennials, berry bushes, grasses, and/or wildflowers under that. Mix in some moss and such and you have a very biodiverse permaculture guild.

Many permaculturists love comfrey, a plant that for a monoculture farmer has very little to offer. It is a multi-use perennial herb that is incredibly low-maintenance. Comfrey grows quite quickly, and then falls over, and it does this...over and over and over again. Essentially pumping biomass into the soil. Comfrey leaves can also be used to activate compost bins, help seedlings grow, and so on. But, to most farmers, comfrey is essentially a weed. It is only in the context of the full ecosystem that comfrey's role can be beneficial, not in a monoculture.

Sometimes, I wonder, what is it like to grow just to fall over? Is that even an accurate description? Does it even count as self-destruction if your roots are growing the whole time? If your base is growing stronger?

It's easy for me to see the comfrey as sacrificial, as giving itself up over and over for the benefit of everything else. But the truth is that it can only do that because it has strong roots. It is a role that really only a perennial could fill.

The first two parts of this essay were written over a month ago now. Wednesday by Wednesday, I have put the pieces back together, built myself up. Some weekends I fall over. But my roots are much stronger than they used to be. So I come back up faster, every single time.

I was here
I was here, mothafucka
And ain't none of y'all can write that in the spot that I just wrote it in
I'm here, mothafucka, and we all here, mothafucka, and we all mothafuckas, mothafucka
Because every breath I give brings me a second closer to the day that my mother may die
Because every breath I take, takes me a second further from the moment she caught my father's eye
Because every word I carry is another stone to put into place in the foundation that I'm building

Here Am I, Anis Mojgani

Part Four

In "Nanette", Hannah Gadsby claims this is her last special, that she is quitting comedy. When asked "what now?" in a TimesTalk months later, she looks at the host confused:

"so what now?"
"what now?"
"yeah, do you still...quit...comedy?"
"No! No! Lord no, like I said, it was a theatrical device"

It took a while, but I now understand how powerful this move is. More and more we are told as writers to contain ourselves.

Hanif Abdurraqib writes "...what I know and have known forever is that the people you dream of standing across from don’t just drift to you on accident, and they may never drift to you again". And if there is one thing I've learned over the last year, it is I don't understand love. But what I have known forever is that one day my parents will die, and that it doesn't matter how long you have spoken a language, you can always forget it.

So, on my fourth trip to Chicago since 2021, and already my second this year, I decide to make an effort to see an Iranian-American friend-but-maybe-an-acquaintance-but-friend-as-far-as-I'm-concerned. Now, you must understand that it is very intimidating to re-establish a connection with someone who met me when I had a mustache. It was a really bad mustache. Like, really bad. We all make bad decisions sometimes.

But, right, sorry, I forgot to contain myself for a moment. We were talking about writing, and they brought up trying to make their comics a bit less personal. They said they once read a tweet that recommended young writers have a habit of putting their entire life's story into every work, and they should avoid this.

I, too, have seen a version of this advice. Scott Woods writes in Columbus Monthly about giving advice to a new poet: "I told her that we’re not journalists. We aren’t here to record, but to interpret. Most poets fail this part; their work ends up didactic, or like a diary entry. She mentioned that was her biggest fear. I told her not to start this poem about ourselves."

We are left to wonder why this poet's biggest fear is a diary entry. And we are left to accept this fear as our own, should I be afraid my work is like a diary entry? Is that "failure"?

Sometimes I cover my mouth with my hand when I laugh because I feel like I'm revealing too much. Sometimes, not most of the time, but sometimes, I look in the mirror when I laugh and I think "wow, I kind of look like a goblin when I laugh, don't I?" But that doesn't feel like a success. That is shame masquerading as humility. See, I've never been good at writing letters to myself. But I've lost the ability to write anything else. So try and fuckin stop me.

Will I be something?
Am I something?
And the answer comes: already am, always was,
and I still have time to be.

Here Am I, Anis Mojgani