September 2021

In this edition of the student spotlight we will be featuring a series of poems by Marjan Zarifi.

Author Responses:

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?

Now,

Drink it.

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.

Nevertheless,

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

You grew

You survived

You flourished

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

Humanity

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 madar

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

Mourn me

You will

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

Play deaf

You will go deaf by my screams

Live

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

Eternal imprisonment

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

For you

I would.

Please, survive

You are stronger than any misleading leader or weapon of peace

You are.

You’re made from the blood of our ancestors, our grandparents

We’re made to endure

Survive.

You can do this.

You’re of our people, child.

No wind or storm can move our mountains

Live.

Live.

Breathe.

Smile.

Don’t say good bye yet, you haven’t learned the words yet, you’re too young

Please.

I beg you.

Just live.

– 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

Became dust

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.

You.

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.

Keep 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

To you

“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

for you

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.

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