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Their Black Imaginings: Letters from an Exiled Wife to Her Imprisoned Husband

ISSUE:  Summer 2010

Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour had been pursuing his doctorate at Oxford alongside his wife, Fatemeh Shams, when Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s presidential campaign began to gain momentum. Though Mohammad Reza was a devout Muslim and had come from a renowned family of martyrs and academics, he believed in Mousavi’s more moderate and fair approach to government. He designed Mousavi’s website and directed much of his online campaigning from England, before returning with his wife for the elections. When violence erupted on the streets, the couple attempted to leave Iran but were detained on June 17, 2009, at the Tehran airport. Fatemeh was allowed to depart, but Mohammad Reza was sent to the notorious Evin Prison. He was put on televised trial with a group of Iran’s brightest minds. During those darkest days, Fatemeh Shams wrote these letters to her husband. However, since fall 2011, the couple has been divorced.

Update 6/18/2010 – Two days ago we learned that Mohammad Reza Jalaeipour has been rearrested by Iranian authorities.

I. Eyes on the Road

Monday, July 1, 2009

My lovely Mohammad Reza, congratulations on your day!

Six years have passed since the day when you came, with a single branch of tuberose and a small card in hand, to ask me to marry you. The card held these words, in your best calligraphy: “I had entrusted in Ali, but Fatemeh became my fate.”1 I never told you how that day I reread your words and each time interpreted them differently. I concluded that there is indeed a thread that binds you to Ali and that this thread had a hand in our falling in love. When you came to ask for my hand in marriage, you spoke of the kinship that you felt to Imam Ali as a child, and how since then, you had wished to be married on the day of his birth. We were ten days away, and orchestrating a wedding celebration was difficult. But your love for Ali was so pure that despite the obstacles and difficulties, we pulled it off. On our wedding day in Mashhad, the moment when our vows were being read to us and you and I were both fighting back the tears, I looked to you and you were chanting Ali’s name. In our life together, whenever there was a knot in your way, you would reach for Ali’s hand. This thread of devotion was so profound that unraveling it was impossible.

Today is the day of his birth. I had set all my hopes on today. All my expectations lay on this day, hoping that perhaps a breeze would carry a whiff of Ali’s righteousness in their direction and they would allow me to hear your kind voice after three weeks. But they did not allow it . . .

But these days will pass. The day will come when you will push the darkness away and return to my side. The day will arrive when I will recount the tales of your bravery for our child, and he will undoubtedly be proud to have a father like you. The day will arrive when once again, bearing a single branch of tuberose, I will spend this day with you and I will celebrate having you in my life. That day is near. I swear to Imam Ali’s reverence that this day is near. He will bestow you with grace and prosperity for spending this day in solitary confinement, praying. I do not worry about your heart; I know it is strong. I swear on my own shaken faith that even if they imprison you unjustly for years, your unbroken faith will be your savior and you will no doubt emerge more devout than before. On that good day six years ago you wrote that you had entrusted in Ali and Fatemeh became your fate. Today I entrust you to Fatemeh so that my Mohammad returns home soon.

• • •

July 16, 2009

My fellow traveler, hello,

I call you my fellow traveler because throughout our years together you have always walked alongside me. Just like that awful Wednesday when we set out together to return home to our studies, to our lives in England. The same Wednesday when they took you from me, and I watched, and I did not even have the chance to scream out: Hey everyone, look! They are taking my innocent husband without a charge! I was doomed to silence so you would not worry, so the last image of me in your mind would not be that of a tearful and worried woman.

I stood a few meters away from the place where they were holding you, and watched with incredulous eyes what was happening to you. At 4:30 A.M., exactly one month ago, they took you away from me. They did not even allow me to embrace you, to kiss you, and to bid you farewell. They did not even allow you to tell me, Don’t wait up for me! Be patient and do not get restless! We were drowning in silence and our empty stares were our only bridge in that instant.

In that last instant, you were on that side of the gate and I was on this side; you were staring at me, and I was frozen with shock. Your face was calm but it held sorrow. Not for yourself, for you were always big-hearted, but for me who was now forced to travel the long way home alone, without you, required to helplessly leave you. You kept on standing there and looking at me from afar until that heartless creature came and took you with him, and they took you away, without a goodbye. Without even showing us the court order for your arrest. What was your crime?

It was difficult. But I had promised you I would go. I had promised you that if they didn’t arrest me as well, I would leave so you wouldn’t have to worry about me. You knew that if they had arrested me, you wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. That black day, they did not even allow you to see that I had passed through the gates unharmed, and had flown away. I am certain that for the next ten days and your eventual two-minute phone call, your imagination took you down a thousand different paths, so when you called, your first concern was my safe departure. I am sure that they tried to plant the seeds of worry in your heart by telling you that they had me. My love! What went through your mind in those unknowing days? What went through my mind every night and day and what do I go through still? Who can know? Who can understand?

Today is one month and four days since they poured into our home and in front of your mother’s unbelieving eyes, shamelessly and with threats of violence took your father from the threshold of his own house and trapped him in a car outside. And then proceeded to ransack our bedroom, looking for you, as your five-year-old sister stood watching. That day the neighbors, disturbed by your parents’ shrieks, watched, wondering: where did such savagery descend from and why on this house, with what cause? How naïve of us to think that returning home to our studies was not a crime. How foolish to think that supporting a state-sanctioned, official candidate is a sin and after the inauspicious coup d’état, we should have hidden, escaped, smuggled ourselves out of the country as criminals do. It was with a clean conscience that we packed our bags and hit the road. We were not so afraid of anything that we would want to conceal ourselves, escape, or hide. If the lackeys thought about it for a moment, they would know that if we were guilty, we would not have stepped foot in the airport, unafraid and unconcerned, as we would not deliberately step into their trap. The sad followers are incapable of employing the simplest logic.

In the past thirty days I have done everything I can to bring you to freedom. I have prayed ceaselessly. Not only I but also every member of our families, our friends and acquaintances, have all turned to prayer for your release. You have been so kind to everyone, you’ve done so much good that now that you are in a bind, the outpouring from friends that I have never even met is overwhelming. Now I understand that whatever good I saw on the surface was only the half of what lay beneath. After your arrest, the vastness of your sacrifices has revealed itself to me.

• • •

My love!

In these thirty days, I have written letters to whomever I can think of. When I tired of appealing to the closed doors of law and (in)justice, where nobody heard my cries, I consulted your three martyred uncles. I told them that these days our youth are charged with defending the honor of our country—the same goal that they, your uncles, sacrificed their lives for—and now our youth are being imprisoned. I told them that your father named you after them so that the memory of their sacrifices and bravery would not escape our minds.

The dead were the first and last place of authority to which I took my complaints. In the visits that the families of the detained had with the authorities, your name was ever present. That day when they visited our dear Khatami, and I was exile-bound, I wrote him and asked him to bow his head on his pure prayer mat and pray for your safe return. I heard back that he is worried from the depths of his heart and will not stop at anything to free you and the others.

But it was not just these letters my lovely! Our families tried numerous times to exercise the fundamental right of obtaining an attorney. But each time, they were met with obstacles. They took away your right to visit with an attorney. Our calls have gone unanswered, and this is my share: no news of you, my own vagrancy, and this worry about your state.

The days that you have been in prison, with no news, have been historic. But the bitterest of these events was the grief of Sohrab’s mother.2 You were not present, you did not see how young Sohrab’s mother wept by his graveside. With every ounce of my being, I feel her twenty-six days worth of unknowing, uncertainty, and with each tear, I wish to wash away the blood that she has witnessed. This earth is once again being watered by the blood of its fallen youth, and the green sapling of freedom is growing from its core.

Two nights ago I said a prayer of gratitude because a friend brought word that your singing fills the nights in the solitary cells of Evin, though she had not been to see your face. But just knowing that the songbird of Evin still has his voice calmed my heart. As another friend said, your song tells us of your health and breath and aliveness. I know your heart is strong. I know you are standing strong and that the lack of news is due to your continual resistance. I know that if they had broken you and you had told them what they wanted to hear, I would have heard your voice by now, or even seen you. When at night the grief, stronger and many-rooted, attacks my body and soul, I cry for the weak constitution of your interrogators. Staring into your green, lively eyes and forcing you to write and confess to that which you do not believe. This act must require such a hardened heart. I cry for the repression of those who keep you from sleep for long stretches of time trying to make you give in to their dirty, false confessions, and I ask God to guide them and to give you strength.

• • •

My kind one!

Always, when sleep would overtake you, sitting or standing, you would give into it like an innocent child. I know that when they put you under pressure during the interrogations, you will fall asleep calmly. I curse the dirty, violating hand that wakes you! I also know that when you wake with fear, for a few minutes you will look at your surroundings dumbly. But there is one scene that I can imagine better than any other: faced with this cruelty you will not utter a word, you will rub your eyes with the palms of your hand and, once again, write the truth on the interrogation sheets, making them seethe with all that they cannot get from you. I know that when the hands of that awful creature release you, and you return to your cell, you will once again sing a happy song so that the hearts of those who control these days, upon hearing the pleasure in your voice, will tremble for a moment.

• • •

My dear Mohammad Reza,

The spread of New Years that we had arranged on our two-person table is still set out. I have vowed to leave the red apple, the mirror, the Quran, and the Haft-Seen of eighty-eight until you arrive and sing for me once more.3

I am standing strong until you return. Come back soon!

Your wife,


• • •

July 20, 2009

My kind one, hello,

The thirty-fifth day of your detainment has passed, and the hands of the clock are fast moving toward the moment of our reunion. I live for that moment that is yet to arrive.

Three days have passed since my last letter in which I told you how all my letters to the officials have gone unanswered. I’ve decided that from this day forth I will only address my letters to you. No one but you is worthy of receiving these lamentations, after all. I know that they are much too hardened in the heart, too black in the soul, to allow even a line from my longings to reach you. But I hope for the day when you return to me, hero-like, and read these lines aloud for me. Just like the days when I would write you letters, and you would wait to whisper my words back to me.

So I will tell you of these days of your imprisonment, the days during which they have kept you with no news from the outside and only filled your ears with falsehoods. On the outside, the people have created their own epic poem, and shed much blood in the path of our shared desire. I write for you until the day of your freedom, and so my own conscience will be soothed of my feelings of uselessness, my passions, and my over-indulgent mind. When you arrive, I will tell you such stories and tales that writing of them is not possible. But I shall write these lines so that your name and your memory stay in our collective minds and your imprisonment and that of your comrades does not become a bitter habit, a perfunctory daily sigh. I write so they won’t forget and leave your fate to the hands of time. I write so you know that if you are not here, I am standing and there is a voice that is still alive. Despite their futile attempts, they have failed to smother my voice for even a second. I write so they know that if they have tied you up in their tethers of fanaticism and hypocrisy, there is still someone who will reveal the sins of these blood-shedding reprobates and will protest the imprisonment of you: the embodiment of Iran’s youthful, Green ideas.

• • •

My purest,

My previous letter to you was written one day before another epic Green day that our people created together. I wish you could’ve seen how this past Friday, in the same streets that only two days after your arrest witnessed the shedding of the blood of our beloveds, green saplings of hope grew all over. It was as if from each drop of Neda’s and Sohrab’s and other Green martyrs’ blood, a creeping, green seedling had grown. People attended the Friday Prayers. But not the same Friday Prayer of our childhood that we watched on the state television. Not the same faces and the same people with their repetitions that we saw for the quarter century of our lives. This time more than any other Friday, the youth of our generation, in their own chosen attire and way, and not dressed to please those in power, attended the Prayers. The same courageous people who with their fervor and intelligence had written the epic poem of Revolution till Freedom, once again chanted their Allah-o-Akbars from the rooftops to the front rows of the Friday Prayers. For many, this was the first Friday Prayer that they had ever attended.

It was a glorious Friday. The elders said that the only other Friday Prayer that was comparable to this one was the Prayer of the now-deceased Ayatollah Taleghani thirty years back. From the same city and the same pulpit.4

The Greens showed up because their leader was present as well. Mir Hossein Mousavi came humbly and sat amongst the people and not in the front row. Zahra Rahnavard, his wife, as well. The people came to see what Rafsanjani had decided after thirty years, and in what way he was going to prove his faith to the people. There was much anxiety in our hearts because what he said could be the beginning or the end of many talks and hopes.

But Rafsanjani shone brightly and exceeded all expectations. After thirty years of being in a position of power, he sided with the people and, with honor, left the pulpit of repetitions and flattery. I imagine that the prayer that this giant of Iranian politics said on that afternoon is among the few prayers in his life that he has said with a clean conscience and a solid heart. Rafsanjani did not preach to the undeserving holders of power; instead he showed them how to lead a people, how to rise above the criminals and not give in to their invitations of violence, how to speak of religion and not drag it into the dirt, how to stand politely in front of a gang of slogan-yelling lowlifes and allow them to speak, and how to know when to hold their tongues. He showed the difference between a millennial lump in the throat and alligator tears, and told them how the fake show of piety will no longer convince anyone.

• • •

My dear Mohammad Reza,

How I wish you were here to see how after the historic sermon, people turned the government-scripted slogans in their own favor and in response to the empty cries of yesteryear, instead of Death to America and England, they wished death to Russia.5 They said louder than at any other time that they would give the blood in their veins not for the Supreme Leader, but for the people of Iran. The response to this sharp-minded alertness was tear gas and batons. I know you know that this is to be expected of such a snake-bitten tribe that is so afraid of the people’s wisdom.

This Friday was a historic one in that the people reclaimed the religious excuses for public gathering that this government has used as its own propaganda machine. Be happy, my love, that from now on they will not be able to have even one march where our comrades are not present. They have given the people a great gift with their own two hands, a gift that they can never take back.

I called your father. I said, “They have brought Mohammad Reza.” It was difficult telling him that they had dragged your body to their ridiculous theater. Especially since he had come to visit you yesterday and you had no knowledge of today’s trial. I then called my mother. I said, “They have brought Reza to the court, mother!”

I wonder for how long the state television can censor these brilliant scenes? This past Friday, two million people attended the Friday Prayers. What will they do for the month of Moharram, the anniversary of the Revolution, and Qods day?6 For how long will they paint over our green with their black? For how long will they send hundreds of bruised bodies of our freedom fighters to the graveyards and call their deaths accidents? For how long will they force-feed us tranquilizers so we fall asleep to the nightmares of Sohrab’s innocent smile, to his mother’s sobs, and to the white bowl of Neda’s frozen stare into the camera? For how long will they imprison our dear, ailing Hajarian and lie to him by saying that his wife and child are suffering and in danger? I wonder how long will they keep someone like you, whose existence has been nothing but benign service to others, in solitary confinement and under psychological torture?

But I know one thing well, that you are firm in your resolve. I wish I could send you word that the people are also firm in their resolve and that they sing the elegy of June each day from rooftops to the streets. Today news came that your interrogators have given up and are angry with you. Angry that you chose solitary confinement and its isolation over their shameful forced “confession” project, and that you are holding your ground. News came that you still laugh like a child and bring hope to the other beloveds who are even more homesick than you. I know this common fight that has made a prisoner of you and an exile of me will be won with patience and hope. I know well that the day will arrive when hand in hand we will take in fresh air and greet the sun anew.

Dawn is close and we are awake.

Forever your love,


• • •

August 25, 2009

My warrior, my Mohammad Reza,

When the sun was rising after the morning prayer, I, drunk with sleep, was involuntarily pulled into your orbit. I heard your voice. I remembered that it is Tuesday and the day of your “trial.” I knew they were going to try Saeed Hajarian; I didn’t know that they would bring you as well.

I had heard correctly. It was you, the same you that I know wholly. First, your name appeared on various web pages. These unworthy creatures, after sixty-seven days of having you, have yet to learn your name. First they called you by your father’s name, and then, to cover up their mistake, they half deciphered your surname. But for me, just your first name was enough to know that they had covered your sharp, green eyes with their dirty black blindfolds and not allowed you to open them until you were in their courtroom. I trembled. Not from fear for your presence there, but from the excitement of seeing you and the rage that was burning inside me. I had once again become that rain-soaked bird of our Monday afternoons.

I called your father. I said, “They have brought Mohammad Reza.” It was difficult telling him that they had dragged your body to their ridiculous theater. Especially since he had come to visit you yesterday and you had no knowledge of today’s trial. I then called my mother. I said, “They have brought Reza to the court, mother!” The silence stretched itself between us, and mother hung up. She had understood my state of mind. She is a mother after all. She knows her daughter well. In these sixty-seven days she has cried to my sobs and been silenced in the face of my rage.

Sleep abandoned me for good. I sat expectant of your image. I saw you. I stared at you with bleary eyes, and you glanced at me. That was our agreement, was it not? Our plan was to behold each other’s image any time we missed one another, with no words, allowing silence to speak for us. Your calm and confident eyes and your hopeful smiles spoke to me from behind the cameras. You told me of these sixty-seven days that have passed between us. These looks and that smile signaled your victory over them. I pity the cameraman—the one who is ordered by the state television to show your picture, to render you shamed—he does not know what great service he has done for the two of us after sixty-seven days of separation.

• • •

My dear Mohammad Reza!

Today I believed that you are an assured soul. You were so calm and confident that it was as if not one grievance had stayed in your heart. To you, the entire scene was a frivolous play, a meaningless and low game. Instead of bowing your head to your sorrows, instead of seething, your green, sharp gaze searched each corner of the courtroom for the cameras, and you stared into their lenses, and with your smiles, you spoke to us. Right when you heard the click click of the flash, in that room that today holds the best men of this land, you laughed for me and for us and told us that you are well and said I am standing tall. Not only your eyes, but the eyes of the good, faithful men alongside you spoke to us. All the eyes spoke to us, spoke to us, spoke to us.

• • •

My beloved!

I saw you. After sixty-seven days and nights of imagining you, conjuring your image from memory, and dreaming of your early freedom and arrival, they have brought you today, and they have laid the most ridiculous charge on you so as to justify the hot rooms, the curses, the beatings, and the torture—unfruitful, for you have not told them what they want to hear. They had prepared you for the cameras so that these sixty-seven days would not be for naught.

• • •

My beloved and my companion,

I know that even now, as you sit there, you are chanting God’s name in your heart, and praying for Him to guide them. I hope God is seeing what is being done to a group of faithful, innocent Muslims. It is as if the story of Koufeh and its poisoned ending is once again playing itself out in this court of injustice. Your victorious presence today after sixty-seven days of perseverance has proven that even when the body is imprisoned, a soul as expansive as yours cannot be held captive. It is so. You have broken free, no matter on which side of the bars you may sleep tonight.

After they released our dear Bahavar, he wrote to me: “I have no doubt that when they bring Mohammad Reza to the court, he will laugh at them all.” I did not understand him then. Today, when I saw your image, I understood what laughing in the face of this court of injustice signifies. Your calm, smirking eyes and your often-smiles were final sledgehammer blows to these lawless thugs.

As long as you shine the light of your luminous face, I will carry it as a lantern to ward off the fear of the night-possessed. Your laughter has invaded my heart from thousands of miles away and has awakened hope in me. Your eyes are still green . . . In hope of seeing you I will stay patient and Green.

Your wife,


• • •

September 1, 2009, seventy-four days without you.

My kind warrior, my dear Mohammad Reza,

Monday is here once again. I have told you that on Mondays I am a vagabond of a bird, rain-beaten and without a nest, shaking my feathers of the clouds’ tears hourly, only to be rained on once more. When the clock passes midnight on Sunday, my heart beats in rhythm to the seconds; one hundred times in each second I fly to that unseen, godforsaken cell which is alive only in my imaginings.

I imagine this: you come to sit across from me, clad in your gray courtroom attire, lips awash in that sweet smile and of course with your innocent, green eyes. I imagine myself there, standing, and I touch my hand to the glass window between you and me, and you, as well, touch the same thick pane of glass that separates us, and the glass fogs up from the heat of our hands, and we laugh despite the lumps in our throats. We ignore the fresh cries that are forming inside us. Every Monday, I live this scene twenty-four thousand times in twenty-four hours and once again, I am left wanting for your voice and your gaze, here, in the corner of exile-land where my lot has become aloneness and longing for you.

And I have tired of words. Never did I want my words to herald such pain; I wanted to write from a place of hope, write with the fervor of life, but they did not allow it. My occupation has become the chronicling of my longing for you. You who do not even see my words! And now they have forced you to send word for me to be silent and not tell of the injustices against you and me and our generation. What right do they have to ask you this? A government who is afraid of mere love letters written by a prisoner’s wife, a lovesick and expectant woman whom they have denied contact with her spouse. Such government should be read its last rites! What have I written, except of the cruelty against you, that has them bewildered, this clan of oppressors—so when their own threats against me have not worked, they send me word through you? I do not know whether to laugh or cry over their ridiculous fears. Don’t they know that I, your lover, can interpret your voice and your words? It is for this reason that I will not put down my pen until they let you go.

• • •

My kind Mohammad Reza,

When they falsely promised your release, in those moments when I still had hope of seeing you, I wrote that I felt the way one does at the turn of the new year: anxious and excited. The excitement and anxiety were sweet after sixty-five days, but my smiles were mixed with tears: so many dear ones like you were still held captive. I did not know whether to be happy for your freedom or to wallow in the pain and frustrations of the others. It was a strange ambivalence. The freedom of my chained beloved and the desire for freedom of other beloveds . . .

You did not arrive that day, and I remained rueful.

You told your father that on the black Wednesday of your arrest, they dressed you in your own clothes and for five hours left you in a room with the false hope of freedom before returning you to your cell. They then wove their lies around a false charge to multiply our misery, oblivious that with their lies they lowered themselves and elevated you in people’s minds. What expertise these amateurs possess in hero-creation! In their opinion they have arrested a guilty bunch; in the people’s opinion, a bunch of heroes.

Though that night I pounded my head against the wall of my loneliness, I knew that I had a tribe in the expectant families of those who are still in Evin. The daughters and mothers and wives whose supper-spreads are as empty as mine. Those who, come dawn, reach an involuntary hand to the cold spot where their beloved used to lie; those whose hearts swell with sorrow at finding the bed empty. Those who have celebrated birthdays and anniversaries in Evin; those who have fasted and broken fasts together. Good for them, Mohammad Reza! Good for those who are at least together, alongside one another, seeing each other and seeing how the image of their beloveds is mirrored and magnified. And what about me? I who, save for your memories, your pictures, and your writings, have no mirror in this foreign air to reflect for me your image. I hate playing the victim, and I know that these days every word of mine reeks of loneliness and pain, but there is no escaping this sorrow! If I don’t write, there is no tolerating this distance.

I have tired of words.

These days, aside from the pain of our separation, a deep pain for the oppressed people of our land wounds me. We wear black with the mothers who are sitting in mourning for their children. Mohammad Reza, did you know Saeedeh? Neither did I until yesterday. You still don’t know what they have done to her. They took Saeedeh from her home where she, in harmony with the entire city, was chanting her nightly Allah-o-Akbars. They took her, they raped her, they burned her body, and in the dark of the night, without notifying her grieving mother, they buried her lifeless body in the cold earth. Can you believe it? Can you believe that this atrocity happened in our Iran? Not thirty years ago so we could blame it on the cruel monarchy of the shah, but in our time. On a day during your detainment and my exile and many others’ torture and rape. Just another day. On a given night when you hear the cries of Allah-o-Akbar from the rooftops of the city, there, even in Evin, they entered Saeedeh’s home and they took her from in front of her mother’s eyes. Her mother is a war widow, and she never again saw her daughter; she only saw her grave. They took her and told her your daughter sleeps here. For eternity. A nameless grave that may or may not be her real resting place. No lie is too big for these liars. But what can her mother do? She must believe. She has no choice. Otherwise, where can she go every Friday when she wants to visit her innocent daughter who was sacrificed at the lewd hands of a power-hungry gang?

My free imprisoned husband,

Saeedeh was not alone; there were other nameless Saeedehs, and they will remain so. I wail with Saeedeh’s mother’s sobs from this distance.

My heart is heavy with this blackness and this lack of air.

Your lovesick wife, with eyes on the road,


II. Distances

Mohammad Reza was released on September 12, 2009, but has been prohibited from leaving the country indefinitely.

October 14, 2009

1) Today I received your letter. This time the words were not soulless and typed as in the last note I received from you. It was your handwriting: “In the name of God, why should I hide it: it is love and it is evident, after all, in my distressed, grievous gaze.” This, a line borrowed from a favorite poet.

When I opened the door on the newly arrived travelers from Iran, my eyes were searching for you to jump out from behind the wall with your childlike mischief, so that our threshold would be filled with light. It was not so. But when I saw the envelope with your letter . . . after four months, I read your handwriting. After four months, I smelled the lifeless page that your hand had hovered above; I kissed your letter and I breathed in the scent of it. I walked. All afternoon, I walked. I couldn’t stay at home, could not sit still. I had to devour the air with each word of yours and I had to kiss you in my mind’s eye a thousand times. In this fog, one cannot decipher the borders of separation . . . you wrote: “I miss your eyes infinitely.” I regressed to a nine-year-old girl. I returned to the same impish games we played behind the school desk: when I wanted to persuade a friend to play with me, I would hold my palms in front of her face and say: “Mirror!” I hold my palms in your direction, because I want to be seen by you, and I say: “Mirror!”

2) Night pours onto my bed through the window. Sleep is a distant dream these days. Continuous sleepless nights. Moving toward a morning in which we cannot predict the direction of the dawn. Which side of the earth will the sun rise from? Fatemeh! I read you every night. Every night in this silence, I read you and I cry, as a child would, under the covers. Heavy sobs. Just like now that my eyes are wet and I am writing you. Each night I calculate the area of your loneliness. It is not difficult. I multiply your tears by my own distance from you, and it is the size of the cozy little house you shared with your brother, Ali. Or the size of that street where on that winter night, our wedding night, with our friends’ happy hollers at our backs, we walked out hand in hand. They took our picture for remembering. Remember how we stripped the car of all the flowers with our bare hands and threw them at Ali? Remember how one of your relatives told us to be dignified, to behave, and I became as a polite, demure girl, and I no longer tore the flowers from the car and the four of us died of laughter . . . Remember your bouquet and how we held it hostage? Fatemeh . . . Fatemeh. Fatemeh, my love! Laugh, my girl! Laugh at our small memories. Don’t be alone in that house, girl! God has opened his arms to you. Did you not ask for this? Throw yourself at his embrace . . . You are not alone, ever!

• • •

November 6, 2009

These days we are reduced to the virtual world: our longings, our writings, the breath in our lungs; our gaze, our kisses, and our scent; our love and lovemaking; our marriage; and our roles as spouse and father and mother to each other. In short, our living is a virtual one.

These days this virtual world seems much closer to our reality than the one thousand “realities” and the things and the people that we love. You and I, blessed by this false, virtual world, each night, behold each other’s face—with many tries and many difficulties—through the portal of the webcam and we thank God for this meeting; the screen wall of the computer is a hundred times more opaque and more distancing than the persistent window of the visiting quarters, and yet we are grateful.

This godforsaken connection forever fails us and in each “hello,” once again, our hearts skip a beat, because, thank God, we are connected once more! These moments when you ring the doorbell of my virtual home and you come in, it is as if all of my aloneness in this corner of the world dissolves, never existed, and it is as if I have not waited for these moments all day, in my solitude. I am grateful for this: these few hours of talk with you, this virtual meeting, these kisses and laughs, and the tears—virtual also—my share of you albeit unjustly meager. I am grateful that I see you without anyone watching you, that you tell me whatever you desire. I am overjoyed that you laugh heartily; I am happy that I can play you all the songs that have filled my days—though you are not here, we are able to listen to them together. This virtual togetherness.

We are not alone, Mohammad Reza! See how Hanif is being an absent father for his newborn daughter. These days, he is the most enamored virtual father in the world, with this small house that he has built for his daughter: a web page to record her new life.

It is still difficult for me to answer this question: Don’t those who deprive their own people of such small pleasures possess such a thing as a heart?

• • •

November 9, 2009

Prayer Beads: Made in Evin Prison

Who would have believed that you would be imprisoned, that instead of returning to me, to your studies, and to your home, you would be confined in a solitary cell, fashioning prayer beads out of orange peels, the cap from a bottle of shampoo, and the threads from your interrogation blindfolds, so that you may recite the name of God in your days and nights of solitude?

They say chanting his name brings one closer to him. Who would have believed that in the empty corner of your cell, with your small, makeshift prayer beads—thirty-three rounds of orange peels in all—you would be making love to God? Who would have imagined that your sole souvenir from this awful pilgrimage would be these prayer beads? A pilgrimage that has yet to be concluded after two months and countless runarounds: and still, you are not back.

Who would have believed that after two months of freedom from your cell, I would still be waiting in this empty nest, lining up our distances: two, three, four, and five, so that you would not think that my pain and lovesickness have diminished in size. You are yet to be by my side and I have become the bitter, prolific tongue of these days. As long as they continue, I will write. I will write until you arrive. Until together, we pedal down the long road to the school and your voice, lovingly from behind, calls to me: Mind the cars! Don’t go so fast! Be cautious!

P.S. These are days of chanting, and the mention of your prayer beads transports me to an orange grove, intoxicated with scent.

  1. Fatemeh was the daughter of Prophet Mohammad, and she married Imam Ali, the most revered figure in the Shia faith.
  2. Sohrab Arabi was a nineteen-year-old high-school graduate who was detained at Evin Prison after the elections. His mother waited for him outside of the prison, even posted bail, only to be told weeks later that her son had died during a torture session. Sohrab and Neda Agha-Soltan, gunned down in the streets, became the poster-children of the Green movement.
  3. The Iranian New Year tradition of setting out a symbolic set of seven items to bring in health, happiness, and good fortune for the coming year.
  4. Ayatollah Taleghani was one of the more progressive forefathers of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
  5. Russia was the first nation to congratulate Ahmadinejad and therefore give legitimacy to his presidency despite the outcries of the people.
  6. Qods day or Jerusalem day is an annual event on the last Friday of Ramadan where massive protests are held in support of Palestine and against Israel.


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