‘New Light’– the Persian New Year

To Iman Askari


It is quite clear the year opens not at the beginning of winter

but of spring, which is when it should be celebrated,

when Iman’s family in Shiraz will be doing it without him.

It is still possible to buy a goldfish there – they’ll put it

in a clear plastic bag for you; no regulations there

about the welfare of goldfish, which start dainty,

giving little sign of the monsters they’d become

if given their due space, or of their dreadful death

when they can no longer cope with the confined

prison of the bowl. At this stage, a goldfish is a symbol

of what comes to an end in the heavens,

and it is placed in the display for Nou-Ruz alongside

the bottle of rosewater, the budding branches,

the yellow tulips and blue hyacinths. When the candles are lit,

their flames flicker in the mirror set as centrepiece,

speaking of the equinox and confusing the fish, a jittery wisp

of colder fire before its own reflection. The significance of the apple

and the bulb of garlic in their gilded glass dishes is obvious

and needs no explanation. It takes weeks to prepare the table

in advance: to sprout a handful of wheat to a small green field,

to cook a jugful of wheat so it becomes proverbial sweetness,

to paint the hollowed eggs in impossible patterns, sit them,

as fragile as life, by the cup of sumac – the colour of dry blood,

the cup of vinegar made from unripe grapes

– the patience of old age, the drink of the dejected.

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