This is a poem for my grandmother, in rubaiyat stanzas as Englished by Edward Fitzgerald. My grandmother lived and died in Tehran, and here I'm thinking of her in London while driving.

‘Rubaiyat’ for BBC 100

for Telajune

Beyond the view of crossroads ringed with breath
her bed appears, the old-rose covers death
has smoothed and stilled; her fingers lie inert,
her nail-file lies beside her in its sheath.

The morning’s work over, her final chore
was ‘breaking up the sugar’ just before
siesta, sitting crosslegged on the carpet,
her slippers lying neatly by the door.

The image of her room behind the pane,
though lost as the winding road shifts its plane,
returns on every straight, like signatures
we trace on glass, forget and find again.

I have inherited her tools: her anvil,
her axe, her old scrolled mat, but not her skill,
and who would choose to chip at sugar-blocks
when sugar-cubes are boxed beside the till?

The scent of lilacs from the road reminds me
of my own garden: a neighbouring tree
grows near the fence. At night its clusters loom
like lantern-moons, pearly-white, unearthly.

I don’t mind that the lilac’s roots aren’t mine.
Its boughs are, and its blooms. It curves its spine
towards my soil and litters it with dying
stars: deadheads I gather up like jasmine.

My grandmother would rise and take my arm,
then sifting through the petals in her palm
would place in mine the whitest of them all:
‘Salaam, dokhtare-mahe-man, salaam!’

‘Salaam, my daughter-lovely-as-the-moon!’
Would that the world could see me, Telajune,
through your eyes! Or that I could see a world
that takes such care to tend what fades so soon.

Recording used by permission of the BBC, read by the author for New Voices, 25th July, 1991 - from In White Ink (Carcanet, 1991), copyright © Mimi Khalvati 1991, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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