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Retrieving The Past by Vida Kazemi




My husband and I take my brother, newly arrived
from Stockholm for a tour of Harvard Square.
When we cross Church Street, he lags behind.
He is talking to a young woman. We wait.

Every few blocks another young woman writes
a few lines in his red and black diary. At dinner,
he leaves our table to join a woman sitting alone
in a booth. I summon him when dinner arrives.

I want to win the heart of the woman whose mother
rejected me when I was young.

I remember his first love, Azita, whom he intercepted
at the airport to keep her from leaving to marry another.
I remember the few who moved away, and those
he might have married, were he not afraid.

Single at fifty, love is women he will never know,
a bookcase lined with red and black diaries,
items belonging to women he might have known,
sunglasses, a belt, lipstick displayed as decoration.

Photos from magazines of a man and a woman
placed on two ends of his piano bench,
each looking in the direction of the other,

keep the possibility of love alive.


He has furnished his room with antiques, a rosewood
love seat in striped velvet, a Victorian Mahogany
book case with hard back copies of No Exit
and In Search of Time Lost.

The clarinet on the upright Steinway, the cello
nestling in the corner, the viola and violin
on the wall, are the chamber orchestra
of my brother’s room, where Love
may have once made its brief visit.

On his desk are reams of letters
and postcards from around the world:
We are waiting for your next visit....
I think of you constantly. When will I see you?

Invitations to gallery openings and concerts
in a count’s castle in Sabylünd. Photos of hunting
with Laps, on his way to the North Cape,
water colors of his street are reminders of a lost life.

His brain diminished by antlers of a moose,
the gas stove is replaced by electric, candles
removed from green glass candle holders
for risk of fire.

Three black rotary telephones, wires curled
on the floor are silent companions.
He plugs one in from nine to midnight
hoping for a sister’s call.



I am talking with my brother on the phone.

He says:

A young woman stands in the dark at the threshold of my room
as I ready myself to sleep. She could be Azita who taught me
how a body can mirror another in dance.
I see her but can not say “come.”


Another call:

A woman is lying on my bed.


One of the aides. What should I do, wait until she leaves?
Ask her to leave? What if she doesn’t?
She desires me—I can’t.


I urge him to look. Hesitant, he agrees.
After some time, he returns to the phone:


I looked around, no one there. No one in the closet either.
I wanted to look under the bed, but it was too hard.



My brother falls asleep on a chair
in his dim-lit hallway, wakes in a sweat to smoke:
Have neighbors called the police? Memory of waking
to door knocks in a smoke-filled apartment relived.

Bathroom also dim. Still, he avoids
the mirror not to see his altered face.
The light over the kitchen table is too bright.
He eats in darkness, falls asleep.

Living room lamps unlit, he sits by the window
looking at lights in other windows, swaying
his head back and forth to see through
the narrow shaft of tunnel vision

a woman reclining on a couch, a young couple
preparing dinner. He worries they may see him,
recognize him if they cross paths on the street.
He waits until curtains close and lights go dark.

But for him, there is never enough
darkness, never enough sleep.

"Love...., ever unsatisfied, lives always in the moment that is about to come."

- Marcel Proust, In Remembrance of Time Past


Elegy for Neda Agha-Soltan (1983 - 2009) by Vida Kazemi

Neda Agha-Soltan was killed in 2009 during a massive demonstration in Tehran,

against a rigged election. The video of her death went viral.

You lie on the pavement, near my old
home, blood flowing from the bullet
in your heart, congealing
on the left side of your face like graffiti,
the other eye looks at the sky.
You are only twenty-six.

Your mother said:
Neda, this protest is dangerous, please don’t go.
You replied:
“If I and others like me don’t go, who will? I will call often.”
Neda, please come back.
Neda please come back.
“I am coming back.”

Beautiful even in death.
A woman warned you:
Remove your make-up. These thugs will come after you.
Was it your beauty that drew the sniper,
suppression the antidote to desire?

Your death reported on news channels.
Women led protests around the world,
your picture held up in London like a flag.
Candles floated on the Seine, but for your family
only a small service allowed.

And I? still haunted by the moment that light left your eyes.


Vida Kazemi was born in Tehran, Iran. She first came to the US as a student years before the Revolution, and has spent most of her life there. She has visited Iran regularly to see family. Many of her poems reflect her bi-cultural experience. She is a newly retired psychologist living in Cambridge, Mass. Her poems have been published in Leon Literary Review.

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