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Seda: Voices of Iran

Sheema Kalbasi

(1972-    )

An outstanding and honest voice from the Middle East, Sheema Kalbasi (born November 20, 1972, in Tehran, Iran) is a human right activist, an award winning poet, and literary translator. She is the director of Dialogue of Nations through Poetry in Translation, director of Poetry of Iranian Women Project, the poetry editor of Muse Apprentice Guild and the co-director of the Other Voices International project ( She has authored two collections of poems, Echoes in Exile in English, and Sangsar (Stoning) in Persian. Kalbasi's work has appeared in numerous magazines, literary reviews, anthologies, and has been translated into several languages. She is one of the few literary figures to promote poets of Iranian heritage as well as international poets to an English speaking audience. Furthermore she has created the horizontal and vertical, a new style in poetry. Kalbasi's work is distinguished by her passionate defense of the ethnic and religious minorities' rights. 

She has worked for the United Nations and the Center for non Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, and in Denmark. Today she lives with her husband and daughter in the United States.

Mama in the War

You took us,

your children,

under your hands, mama,

beneath the steps of our home's first floor,

to protect us from the bombs.

You never slept

and in the hot summer nights

your only mission

was our safety.

You are my president mama,

you and all those women,

who protected

and still defend their children

against the blinded-with-hatred

soldiers of death

...all around the world...

Under the bombs, you showed no fear.

The drastic changes in our lives,

you took

quiet and peaceful

with your inner love and belief

and tried to dispel,

the terror of death

from the

filled-with-fear eyes

of your children.

You made a new reform of solidarity

and election of bravery

in our home.

You drove us to

the polished satisfaction

of holding each other's hands

through the rough times...

In the deepest corners of my memory,

deep in my heart,

deep in my thoughts,

of blackout

and no candlelight,

I could see your blond hair,

brown eyes

and comforting face.

My vote goes to you, Mama.

For Women of Afghanistan

As I walk in the streets of Kabul,

behind the painted windows,

there are broken hearts, broken women.

If they don't have any male family to accompany them,

they die of hunger while begging for bread,

the once teachers, doctors, professors

are today nothing but walking hungry houses.

Not even tasting the moon,

they carry their bodies around, in the covered coffin veils.

They are the stones in the back of the line ...

their voices not allowed to come out of their dried mouths.

Butterflies flying by, have no color in Afghani women's eyes

for they can't see nothing but blood shaded streets

from behind the colored windows,

and can't smell no bakery's bread

for their sons bodies exposing, cover any other smell,

and their ears can't hear nothing

for they hear only their hungry bellies

crying their owners unheard voices

with each sound of shooting and terror.

Remedy for the bitter silenced Amnesty,

the bloodshed of Afghani woman's life

on the-no-limitation-of-sentences-demanding help

as the voices break away not coming out but pressing hard

in the tragic endings of their lives.

"Woman, are you the brown March Violets?"

"I saw an angel in the Miramar

I carved and carved

until I freed her out".

         -Michele Angelo

My utopia brushed

an unusual current

turned into

autobiographical circulation of

devilish misplaced luck

as a woman today

I have

never had much fruit

much happiness

My parents' ambition

not to see me sealing my body

to the sad painted windows

Men with unknown identity

without faces

decide for my very existence

My voice

a recorded statement

I am a hopping sparrow

.......... Maybe tomorrow

         behind the veil

         the flesh

         dies away

         all the pain

                the sorrow

of being a woman

in Afghanistan

in the year zero, zero, zero

I tried

I tried

to pour burning oil on the crying cells

on my body


only inside

the burning oil

were the poisoned houses of wishes!

A mushroom in the city-world-of universe

From trying to pass the dying

the head first and then dripping bread



from one age to another

Lively playing with death

I die-to-die and live to live

If I could only live

a noble life.

God speaks Hebrew

Before the crystal sea,

I stand with my imprisoned heart,

My nights of empty stories

I cannot find

Dreamy swans of my desire

My appearance of lingering kisses

I want to hear,

Bass murmurs of manly voices,

No more

To think of God?

His colors,


Can he be red, green-white, and true?

As I think it over,

Shiny pink waves,

In the valley of God

Walk me through

He is tall and fair

With lots of hair

God is my goodnight kisses,

At the age of 4,

My first designer dresses

The address of a homeless guy,

Or a tiny little beggar's silver coin

He is the dream of a 14-year-old girl,

Sitting across the table,

Discussing in the Technical words,

Countries of the 3rd world

Dreams of being able,

To change the whole wild, wide, world

God is my father,

With his big brown lovely eyes,

The strict laws of my mother,

To grow up good, nice and humble!

Demanding school grades with only straight A's!

God swims like a rolling fish,

Diverse of dolphins


He sneezed within me,

God and his kissable mouth,

Smiling with a wide-open heart!

God never cheats,

Never rapes,

Never hates

Sings in Hindi,

Persian and Russian,

Latin, Swahili and Sindi!

Can be understood in Semitic languages,

Arabic and Hebrew!

God walks in kimonos,

Sophisticated and elegant

Smells like iris and talks like English

He is a little Chinese village-man,

Rejecting the ism

He reborn the angels,

As they sing the symphony of cotton fields,

A freedom's journey,

An escape from unformed yellow seeds

Crystal hands, crystal stars,

Crystal green gardens,

And my crystal laughter,

Essentializes the whole poem of life.


I don't care if you are you and I am I. I am not some exotic flower. Whatever coat you have on, I will put it on to warm me... and the shoes however small... I will walk in them to balance our height difference. You don't need to convert for me; I have already converted to you. You see I never had a religion to begin with. I was born naked from all religions but your love.

I know that was not the point. I know there is no conversion. There is no coat, no balance, no shoes but the naked truth of me finding you first, not you finding me. You, whom will never know who I was when I was sitting on the white sheets.

Y o u, not b e s i d e m e.

And the words that are already written. The words that are already said, are already felt, and are already gone.

And I try to take them back into my empty bowl of hands. To put my hands on the chest. The chest into rest. The rest in to the heart. The beat back to the soul. The soul, back to what it was before you.

Alas! I am 5.7

I am a woman

I am woman
coming from the desert
coming from the long line of tribes
coming from the long line of faiths

They called me mad
They chained me to the wall naked
yet I broke free the bonds
and ran through the pain of my existence
in search of the innocence that was denied me
and they called me mad
and they called me the evil spawn of Satan
yet I broke free the bonds
and ran towards our freedom
where I knelt
before the Mother and the Son
and I called them Salvation
and they named me Nation
and I tore loose the chains of captivity
only to fall once more into bondage
when I was raped by a Mongol
married a Jew
gave birth to a Muslim
watched the child convert to Buddhism
watched the child marry a Bahai
live as a Christian
die as a Hindu

I am a woman
I am the river
I am the sky
I am the clouded covered trees upon the mountain
I am the fertile earth whose song the plants drink deep
I am the long line of tribes
I am the long line of faiths

Don't try to convert me
into something I am not
for I am already all
that humanity will ever be



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