photo: Caroline Forbes
Mimi Khalvati was born in Tehran and grew up in England. She attended Drama Centre London and worked as a theatre director in London and in Tehran. Carcanet Press publish her seven poetry collections, including In White Ink (1991), Mirrorwork (1995), Entries on Light (1997), The Chine (2002) and The Meanest Flower (2007), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, a Financial Times Book of the Year and shortlisted for the T.S.Eliot Prize. Her most recent publication, Child: New and Selected Poems 1991-2011, is a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. She is also the editor of several anthologies, including Fado, a first collection of Fado lyrics in translation, published by the Gulbenkian Foundation.
Mimi has been Poet in Residence at the Royal Mail and has held fellowships with the Royal Literary Fund fellowship at City University, the International Writing Program in Iowa and the American School in London. She is the founder of The Poetry School, where she now teaches. She is the recipient of a Cholmondeley Award, a major Arts Council of England writer’s award and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Mimi Khalvati: www.mimikhalvati.co.uk
Only the brightest stars were out with a half moon
centred in the sky: a ceiling to learn the names of stars by.
And in the gaps between the stars, milkcarts went to market,
pony traps crossed viaducts, oxen drove sad water wheels,
history trundled by as birds awoke and the distant sound
of a plane winked lights. Her owl flew back to Minerva
as she flashed her shield while, on Apadana’s stairways,
processions of bearded guards, Persians, Medes, marched past.
Cedar palaces were torched; frigates, night-fishing boats set out.
Passengers flew like vesper bats straight across the moon,
roofscapes listened for child lovers leaning over balconies,
geraniums grew in the dark. I had never been so happy
and historical. Happy enough to see, holding them up,
stars on the tip of each finger, countable, spread far apart,
one by one go out as day rose to pluck the first strains
of a Spanish guitar. Then the silver moon went white.
Updraughts lift sounds of language imperceptibly, even
the silent language of Lula as she hobbles up the steps.
Tiny enough to be an eternal pup, she’s growing older,
stopping to groom a forepaw, pulling up wet tufts of fur
from between her nails. Dogs Lula doesn’t know
bark along the terraces, bamboo rustles. Even blind,
we know the angels by their sounds: angel of September,
angel of the fallen fig and dapple. Angel of perspective
that staggers the terraces upward, white steps downward,
angels of the mountains – the first, the second, the third.
And the angels circle us like lepers on the hills,
they unveil themselves. And I love my angels
not as they were in childhood, angel of the crabapple
and chine, of calico and sandal, but as they are now:
leprous and discharged, violent and betrayed.
Angel of the soft wind that blows across my breasts.
However small, it’s still an orchard –
three limes, a pomegranate and a kumquat.
Each stands in a circle of shade
and bedding plants. Sweetpeas brought
from England have died at the foot
of their canes. Above, the pepper tree
that went wild in a sudden storm,
throwing its branches all over the place,
hangs droops of coral berries against
a calendar sky. Cones, black droppings
in the dust, a fragment of rope
knotted at both ends, a fleeting shadow –
a swallow if you look up. But no,
I keep my gaze on the ground.
If the trees were horses, they’d be foals
and the pepper tree their barn.
What it Was
It was the pool and the blue umbrellas,
blue awning. It was the blue and white
lifesize chess set on the terrace, wall of jasmine.
It was the persimmon and palm side by side
like two wise prophets and the view that dipped
then rose, the swallows that turned the valley.
It was the machinery of the old olive press,
the silences and the voices in them calling.
It was the water talking. It was the woman
reading with her head propped, wearing glasses.
It was the logpile under the overhanging staircase,
mist and the mountains we took for granted.
It was the blue-humped hose and the living wasps
swimming on the surface. It was the chimneys.
It was sleep. It was not having a mother,
neither father nor mother to comfort me.
All poems on this post: © Mimi Khalvati
Published with the permission of Mimi Khalvati