Poems About Iran by Douglas Gilbert, “Fasting”


Insomnia has invaded Iran.
No one of virtue dare sleep.

A browser at a book stall
on Enghelab yawned, closed an eye.
The merchant nearly fell asleep, but
screams from sleeping customers
made him
abstain from sleep and food.

No woman dare sleep even in lullaby,
an Ayatollah a Supreme Incubus,
the Basiji the incubi

Even men succumb
to the succubi,
evil seeds obtained.

Around Azadi Tower
professors warned of portents
spoke of symbols, something
about show trials.

Students marched with cymbals to stay awake
but one who slept screamed out:

There is a river of pulp in my dreams,
mallets on pomegranates, astringent
speech not tart enough to staunch the bleeding,
many demons and tribulations, many demons,
no sweetness held in gritted teeth
to drink the bitter tea, many
snipers on roof gardens spreading salt,
many trials, many demons
and rape.

Again the students marched
around the Tower,
bloodthirsty thugs in shadow.

Screams awaked many
who sat in murk.

A prayer for the sun.
A stirring somehow.

To their feet
they walked where sunshine led
to solace in hidden corners
and heard a song
that Neda sang

Portents or not:
a question extant
about being awake.

Who is asleep?

—Douglas Gilbert

Books by Douglas Gilbert