Why Are You Here?

for Sayeh (Shadow)

from the forest-covered mountains
you celebrated the land that jailed you
When the radio broadcast your patriotic song
your jail guards and cellmates asked,
“Why are you here?”

In the “rose-coloured dawn” of exile
a world away from your world
you lauded “peace and freedom”
and the mirror asked,
“Why are you here?

at your burial
in “The House of Hope”
thousands sing your words
and no one asks,
“Why are you here?”

About the Poem

This poem responds to the funeral of poet Houshang Ebtehaj (pen name: “Sayeh,” meaning “Shadow”), in Iran. After he was jailed in Iran for his political views, he left the country and lived in exile until the end of his days. His body was returned to Iran for burial. At his funeral, thousands sang his songs. Words in quotes, except the question “Why are you here?”, are taken from the patriotic song by Ebtehaj titled “Iran, the House of Hope.”

About the Author

Bänoo Zan is a poet, librettist, translator, teacher, editor, and poetry curator, with over 200 published poems and three books: Song of Phoenix: Life and Works of Sylvia Plath (2008); Songs of Exile (2016), shortlisted for Gerald Lampert Memorial Award by League of Canadian Poets; and Letters to My Father (2017). She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Toronto’s most diverse monthly poetry reading and open mic series (inception: 2012). It is a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions, ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, and styles.

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