Jennifer Hayashida is the recipient of a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for her work translating Athena Farrokhad’Vitsvit. Read her essay on translating Farrokhzad’s work here.

from Vitsvit

My family arrived here in a Marxist tradition

My mother immediately filled the house with Christmas knick-knack
Weighed the pros and cons of the plastic Christmas tree
as if it was her problem

During the day she distinguished between long and short vowels
as if the sounds that came out of her mouth
could neutralize the olive oil in her skin

My mother let bleach run through her syntax
On the other side of punctuation her language became whiter
than a winter in Norrland

My mother built us a future consisting of quantity of life
In the suburban basement she lined up canned goods
as if preparing for a war

In the evenings she searched for recipes and peeled potatoes
As if it was her history inscribed
in the Jansson’s temptation casserole

To think that I sucked at those breasts
To think that she put her barbarism in my mouth
My father said: Whose father are you rendering
My mother said: Whose mother are you rendering
My brother said: Whose brother is being referred to
My grandmother said: If you don’t finish chopping the vegetables soon there won’t be any dinner

My father said: To those who have more will be given
and from those who lack even more will be taken
My mother said: Take some more milk before it turns

My mother said: Wouldn’t it be strange to feel
a single night like this one
my language in your mouth

My father said: One spoonful for the executioners
one spoonful for the emancipators
one spoonful for the hungry masses
And one spoonful for me

My mother handed the glass to her mother and said: Now we are even
Here is your milk back

My grandmother said: Your mother comes from the rising sun
She was named after the bud of a flower since she was born in spring
Your mother named you after a warrior to prepare you for winter

My mother said: Never underestimate the trouble people will take
to formulate truths possible for them to bear
My mother said: You were not fit to live from the start

My mother said to my brother: Beware of strangers
Remember that you have nothing to return to
if they should become hostile

My brother said: I had such a strange dream
That the dawn died in my eyes before sleep had dissipated
When I bid farewell to the light I knew everything
A humanity made of sugar and slaughter

My grandmother said: During spring in Marghacho mint grew along the streams
Does the poem you write reveal any of this
My grandmother said: You snot-nosed little mutt
Come here and I’ll take your measurements and knit you a wool sweater

My father said: I have lived my life, I have lived my life
I have done my share
Now nothing remains of the halcyon days of youth

My father said: If it were possible to compete in martyrdom your mother would do everything to
My mother said: The heart is not like the knee that can be bent at will
My father said: Even the rooster who does not crow gets to see the sun rise
My mother said: But if the hen does not lay an egg she will be served for dinner

My father said: I wrote about bread and justice
and as long as the starving one could read
the font did not matter to me
My father said: The serif pricks my fingers

My mother said: If you could see the circumstances as extenuating
you would let me off easier

My mother said: There are photographs where you do not hate me
and where the flower petals rest against each other

My father said: How much resistance can human fat bear
before the lashes of the whip become permanent
My father said: If you forget the alphabet
you will find it on my back

My father said: Only when you forgive the person who has turned you in will you know the
meaning of violence

My uncle said: You will forget everything
except the memory that you always remember
I remember that before the war the soldier chewed with my teeth
the agitator screamed with my throat

My uncle said: Do not forget that you walked these streets as a child
Do not forget that the only thing that counts in a revolution
is the daughters’ verdicts between the lines of the poem

My father said: We are still there, even if time has separated us from the place
My mother said: Our ceilings are as tall as the floors warrant

My mother said: A woman dug out her mother’s eyes with her fingers
so that the mother would be spared the sight of the daughter’s decline

My father said: Whose father are you rendering
My mother said: Whose mother are you rendering
My brother said: Whose brother is being referred to
My grandmother said: If you don’t finish chopping the vegetables soon there won’t be any dinner

My grandmother said: Pistachios for the toothless
rosaries for the godless
rugs for the homeless
and a mother for you

My father said: Jobs for the jobless
use for the useless
papers for the paperless
and a father for you

My brother said: Cables for the wireless
organs for the bodyless
transfusions for the heartless
and a brother for you

My mother said: Oxygen for the lifeless
vitamins for the listless
prostheses for the limbless
and a language for you

My father said: Do not bury me here
Bury me where all property has been expropriated
Do not give me a tombstone, dedicate your halcyon days to me

My mother said: Do not bury me here
Bury me where the veneer of civilization has peeled
Spit out my language, return the milk to me