“The Footsteps of Water” by Sohrab Sepehri (1964)

Sohrab Sepehri

I am a native of Kashan1
My days are not so bad.
I own a loaf of bread, a bit of intelligence, a tiny bit of taste.
I possess a mother better than the leaves of trees.
Friends, better than the water of a running brook.

And a God who is this near:
Within these gillyflowers, beneath that tall pine tree,
Hovering above the awareness of water, above the Law of Foliage.

I am Muslim.
My qiblah2 is a red rose.
My praying spot is a spring, my prayer stone is light.
Plains are my praying mat.
I make ablution with the heartbeat of windows.
In my prayer flows the Moon, flow the colors of the spectrum.
Stones are visible from behind my prayer:
Crystallized are all the particles of my prayer.
I do my prayer when,
Its athan3 wind, from a cypress tree’s minaret, has sung.
I do my prayer to grass’s saying “God is the Greatest”
To the iqama4 of waves.

My Kabaa5 is by the lip of the brook,
My Kabaa is under the acacias.
My Kabaa like the breeze, blows from garden to garden, from town to town.

My Black Stone6 is the brilliance of the garden.

I’m a native of Kashan.
My craft is painting:
Now and then I build a cage with paint, sell it to you
So that with the song of poppies that is imprisoned in it
The heart of your loneliness may cheer up.
What a dream, what a dream…I know
My canvas is lifeless.
I know well, my painting basin contains no fishes.

I’m a native of Kashan.
My descent perhaps goes back
To a plant in India, to an earthen vase from the soil of Sialk7
My descent perhaps goes back to a prostitute in the city of Bukhara8.

My father behind two migrations of swallows, behind two snowfalls,
My father behind twice sleeping in the veranda,
My father behind eras has died.
My father died when the sky was blue,
My mother jumped from sleep unaware, my sister became beautiful.
My father died when the policemen were all poets.
The grocer asked me, “How many melons do you want?”
I asked him, “How much is a happy heart?”

My father used to paint.
He used to make tars9, played the tar too.
He also had a nice handwriting.

Our garden stood on the side of the shadow of wisdom.
Our garden was the interweaving place of feeling and plants,
Our garden was the meeting point of a glance, a cage and a mirror .
Our garden was perhaps, an arc of the green circle of happiness.
The unripe fruit of God on that day, I used to chew in sleep.
Water I used to drink without philosophy
Berries, I used to pick without knowledge.
As soon as a pomegranate used to crack, hands turned to fountains of desire.
As soon as a cello used to sing, the chest burnt from a longing to hear.
Sometimes loneliness used to stick its face to the windowpane.
Passion used to come, and put its arms around the neck of sense.
The mind, used to play.
Life was something, like a rainfall during Eid, like a plane tree full of starlings.
Life at that time, was a line up of light and dolls,
It was an armful of liberty.
Life at that time, was a music basin.

The child, slowly, walked away along the alley of dragonflies.
I packed my things, went out of the city of carefree fancies
With my heart filled with homesickness for dragonflies.

I went to the party thrown by the world:
I, to the field of grief,
I, to the garden of mysticism,
I, to the illuminated veranda of knowledge, went.
I climbed up the stairs of religion.
To the end of the alleyway of doubt,
To the cool air of self-sufficiency,
To the wet night of love and affection.
I went to see someone who was at the other side of love.
I went, I went until women,
Until the lantern of pleasure,
Until the silence of desire,
Until the flapping sound of the wings of loneliness.

I saw things on the face of the Earth:
I saw a child who was smelling the Moon.
I saw a door-less cage in which brilliance was flapping its wings.
I saw a ladder on which love ascended to the roof of heaven.
I saw a woman who was pounding light in a mortar.
Lunch on their table was bread, was vegetables, was the distance of dew, was the hot bowl of affection.

I saw a beggar who was walking door to door begging for the song of a lark
And a sweeper who was praying to the rind of a melon.

I saw a lamb that was eating a kite.
I saw a donkey who understood hay.
In the meadow of Advice I saw a cow, satiated.

I saw a poet who, when he talked, he addressed a lily as “Your Highness.”

I saw a book, its words all of the make of crystal.
I saw a sheet of paper, of the make of spring,
I saw a museum far away from grass,
A mosque far away from water.
Above the bed of a hopeless scholar, I saw a vase, overflowing with questions.

I saw a mule whose burden was Essays.
I saw a camel whose burden was the empty basket of Proverbs.
I saw a mystic whose burden was tanana ha ya hoo10

I saw a train that was carrying brilliance.
I saw a train that was carrying knowledge and so torrentially it went.
I saw a train that was carrying politics (and so emptily it went.)
I saw a train that was carrying seeds of lotus and the song of canaries.
And an airplane, which on that height of thousands of feet,
through its windows the soil was visible:
the topknot of hoopoes,
The spots of a butterfly’s wings,
A frog’s reflection in a pond,
And the passage of a fly from the alleyway of loneliness.
The clear desire of a sparrow, when from a plane tree it comes toward the ground.
And the maturation of the Sun.
And the beautiful love making of a doll with the morning.

Stairs that ascended to the greenhouse of lust.
Stairs that descended to the cellar of alcohol.
Stairs that ran to the Law of Corruption of Red Roses
And toward the understanding of Mathematics of Life,
Stairs that ran to the roof of enlightenment,
Stairs that ran to the platform of manifestation.

My mother down there,
Was washing the cups in the stream’s memory.

The city was visible:
The geometrical growth of cement, steel, stones.
The pigeonless roofs of hundreds of buses.
A florist was putting up his flowers for sale.
Between two jasmine trees a poet was hanging a swing.
A boy was throwing stones at the wall of School.
A child was spitting plum stones upon dad’s faded praying mat.
And a goat was drinking water from the Caspian Sea of a map.

A laundry-line was visible, a restless brassiere.

The wheel of a cart longing for the horse to become weary,
The horse longing for the carter to sleep,
The carter longing for death.

Love was visible, waves were visible,
Snow was visible, friendship was visible.
Words were visible.
Water was visible, and the reflection of things in water.
The cool shade of cells in the heat of blood.
The moist side of life,
The east of sorrow in the human heart.
The season of drifting in the alley of women.
The scent of solitude in the alley of seasons.

A fan was visible in the hand of summer.

The seed’s journey to flowering.
The ivy’s journey from this house to that house.
The moon’s journey into the pond.
The eruption of flowers of regret from the soil.
The falling of young vine from the wall.
The raining of dewdrops on the bridge of sleep.
The leaping of joy from the ditch of death.
The passing of events behind words.

The battle of a pit with the light’s desire.
The battle of a stair with the long leg of the Sun.
The battle of solitude with a melody.
The beautiful battle of pears with the emptiness of a basket.
The bloody battle of pomegranates with the jaws.
The battle of Nazis with branches of delicacy.
The battle of a parrot and eloquence.
The battle of the forehead with the coldness of prayer-stones.

The attack of the mosque tiles on prostration.
The attack of wind on the ascension of soap bubbles.
The attack of the army of butterflies on the program of Pest Control.
The attack of dragonflies on the class of pipelayers.
The attack of reed pens on leaden letters.
The attack of a word on a poet’s jaw.

The opening of a century by a poem.
The opening of a garden by a starling.
The opening of an alley by an exchange of greetings.
The opening of a town on the hands of three or four wooden horsemen.
The opening of a New Year by two dolls, one ball.

The murder of a ratchet on the mattress in the afternoon.
The murder of a story at the entrance of the alley of sleep.
The murder of a worry by the instruction of songs.
The murder of moonlight by the command of neon lights.
The murder of an oak tree by the hands of government.
The murder of a depressed poet by a chimonanthus11.

All was visible on the surface of the earth:
Order was walking in the alley of Greece.
An owl was howling in the Hanging Gardens12.
The wind was blowing a sheaf of history’s straws on Khyber Pass13 towards the east
On the serene lake of Neghin, a boat was carrying flowers.
In Banares14, at the entrance of each alley an eternal lamp was burning.

Peoples I saw.
Towns I saw.
Plains, mountains I saw.
Water I saw, soil I saw.
Light and darkness I saw.
And plants in light and plants in darkness I saw.
Creatures in light, creatures in darkness I saw.
And humans in light, and humans in darkness I saw.

I’m a native of Kashan, but
My city is not Kashan.
My city is lost.
I, with endurance. I, with fever,
Have built a house on the other side of nighttime.
In this home I am close to the humid anonymity of grass.
I hear the sound of the breathing of the garden.
And the sound of darkness, when it drops from a leaf.
And the sound of brightness, coughing from behind a tree,
The sneezing of water from every crack of rock,
The dripping of swallows from the ceiling of spring.
And the clear sound of opening and closing of the window of loneliness.
And the pure sound of the mysterious moulting of love,
The concentration of the passion for soaring in wings
And the cracking of the soul’s self-restraint.
I hear the footsteps of longing,
And the methodical footsteps of blood in the veins,
The pulsing of the dawn of the pigeons’ well,
The beating of the heart of Friday night,

The flowing of carnations through thoughts,
The pure neighing of truth from afar.
I can hear the sound of the blowing of matter,
And the sound of the shoe of faith in the alley of excitement.
And the sound of rainfall on the wet eyelids of love,
On the sad music of adolescence,
On the song of pomegranate orchards.
And the sound of the shattering of the bottle of joy at night,
The tearing of the paper of beauty,
And the wind filling and emptying the cup of nostalgia.

I am near to the start of the Earth.
I take the pulse of flowers.
I am familiar with the wet fate of water, the green habit of trees.

My soul is flowing in the new direction of things.
My soul is young.
My soul sometimes, from excitement, gets a cough.
My soul is jobless:
Raindrops, the cracks in bricks, it counts.
My soul sometimes is as real as a stone on the road.

I didn’t see two poplars in enmity.
I didn’t see a willow selling its shade to the ground.
For free it offers, the willow its branch to the crow.
My passion blossoms wherever a leaf exists.
A poppy bush has bathed me in the surge of being.

Like the wings of insects I know the weight of dawn.
Like a vase, I listen to the music of growth.
Like a basketful of fruit, I have strong fever for ripening.
Like a tavern, I stand on the border of languor.
Like a building at the lip of the sea I am anxious about the high eternal waves.

Sunshine as much as you want, union as much as you want, increase as much as you want.

I am content with an apple
And with smelling a chamomile bush.
I with a mirror—a pure connection—am content.
I will not laugh if a balloon bursts,
And I will not laugh if a philosophy halves the Moon.
I know the sound of the flapping of a quail’s wings,
The colors of a bustard’s belly, the footprints of a mountain goat.
I know well where rhubarbs grow,
When starlings come, when partridges sing, when falcons die,
What the Moon is in the dream of a desert,
Death in the stem of desire,
And the raspberries of pleasure, in the jaws of love-making.

Life is a lovely ritual.
Life has wings as vast as death,
It has a leap the size of love.
Life is not something that, on the windowsill of habit, to be left forgotten by you and me.
Life is the rapture of a hand that reaps.
Life is the first black fig in the acrid mouth of summer.
Life is the dimensions of a tree from the eyes of an insect.
Life is the experience that a bat has in the dark.
Life is the homesickness that a migrating bird feels.
Life is the whistle of a train that turns through the dream of a bridge.
Life is observing a garden from the obstructed windows of an airplane.
It is the news of the launch of a rocket into space,
Touching the loneliness of the Moon,
The notion of smelling a flower on another planet.

Life is the washing of a plate.

Life is finding a penny in the brook of the street.
Life is the square root of a mirror.
Life is a flower to the power of eternity.
Life is the Earth multiplied by our heartbeats.
Life is the simple and monotonous geometry of breaths.

Wherever I am, so let me be,
The sky is mine.
The window, thinking, air, love, the Earth are mine.
What importance does it have then,
Sometimes if they grow,
Mushrooms of nostalgia?

I, don’t know,
Why some say, “Horses are noble animals, pigeons are beautiful.”
And why there is no vulture in any person’s birdcage.
What do clovers lack that red tulips have?
Eyes should be washed, in another way we should see.
Words should be washed.
A word in itself should be the wind, a word in itself should be the rain.

Umbrellas we should shut.
In the rain we should walk.
Thoughts, and recollections, should be carried in the rain.
With all the people of the town, in the rain we should walk.
A friend, in the rain we should call on.
Love, we should seek in the rain.
In the rain we should sleep with women.
In the rain we should play.
In the rain we should write things, speak, plant lotuses.
Getting drenched from time to time,
Swimming in the pond of right now, is what life is.

Let us undress:
Water is one foot away.

Let us taste brilliance.
Weigh the night of a village, the sleep of a deer.
Let us feel the warmth of a stork’s nest,
Tread not on the Law of Lawn,
Loosen the knot of tasting in the vineyard.
And open our mouthes if the Moon emerges.
And not say that night is a bad thing.
And not say that the shining moon is unaware of a garden’s eyesight.

And Let us bring baskets.
Take all this red, all this green.

Let us have bread and cheese in the mornings.
And plant a sapling at every turn of a sentence.
And pour the seed of silence between two syllables.
Let us not read a book in which the wind doesn’t blow,
And a book in which the surface of dew is not wet,
And a book in which cells don’t have dimensions.
Let us not wish the mosquito would fly off the fingertip of nature.
And not wish that the leopard would go out of the door of creation.
And let us understand that if worms didn’t exist, life would have lacked something.
And if caterpillars didn’t exist, the Law of Trees would have suffered a blow.
And if death didn’t exist, our hands would have sought something.
And let us know if light didn’t exist, the living logic of flying would have gone astray.
And let us know that before corals, a void was being felt in the thoughts of the seas.

And let us not ask where we are,
Let us smell the fresh petunias of the hospital.

And let us not ask where the fountain of luck is.
And let us not ask why the heart of truth is blue.
And let us not ask what breezes, what nights the fathers of our fathers enjoyed.

Behind our backs there isn’t a thriving space.
Behind our backs no bird sings.
Behind our backs no wind blows.
Behind our backs the green window of poplars is closed.
Behind our backs dust has settled over the whirligigs.
Behind our backs what there is is the weariness of history.
Behind our backs the memory of waves throws cold shells of silence on the coast.

Let us go to the lip of the sea,
Cast nets,
And catch freshness from the water.

Let us pick up a pebble from the ground,
And feel the weight of existence.

Let us curse not the Moonlight if we have fever,
(Sometimes I have seen in fever, the moon descends,
The hand can touch the ceiling of heaven.
I have noticed that the goldfinch sings better.
Sometimes a wound that I have had under my food,
Has taught me the ups and downs of the ground.
Sometimes in my sickbed the size of a flower has multiplied,
And increased it has, the diameter of an orange, the radius of a lantern.)
And let us not fear death.
(Death is not the end of the pigeon.
Death is not a cricket’s inversion.
Death flows in the soul of acacias.
Death has a seat in the pleasant climate of thinking.
Death in the spirit of the village’s night speaks of morning.
Death with a bunch of grapes comes into the mouth.
Death sings in the red larynx of the throat.
Death is responsible for the beauty of a butterfly’s wings.
Death sometimes picks basil.
Death sometimes drinks vodka.
Sometimes it is in the shade watching us.
And we all know,
The lungs of pleasure, are full of the oxygen of death.)

Let us not shut the door on the alive speech of appreciation which we hear from behind the wattled twigs of sound.

Let us remove the curtain:
Let us allow feeling to get some fresh air.
Let us allow adolescence to dwell under any bush it wishes.
Let us allow instinct to play.
To take off its shoes and following the seasons, leap on the flowers.
Let us allow solitude to sing.
To write things.
To go to the street.

Let us be simple.
Let us be simple whether at a teller’s window or under a tree.

It is not our job, discovering the secret of the red rose,
Our job maybe is
To, in the charm of the red rose, become swimmers.
To camp behind wisdom.
To wash hands in the rapture of a tree leaf before sitting at the dining table.
In the mornings when the sun, rises let us get born again.
Let us let our excitements fly.
Let us upon the perception of space, color, sound and the window sprinkle water .
Let the sky settle between two syllables of existence.
Let us fill and empty our lungs with eternity.
Take the load of knowledge off the shoulders of the swallow.
Let us reclaim the name from clouds,
From plane trees, from mosquitos, from summer.
On the wet feet of rain let us climb to the heights of compassion.
Let us open the door on mankind, light, plants and insects.

Our job maybe is
Between the lotus flower and the century
To run after the song of truth.

Kashan, village of Chenar (plane tree), summer of 1343 (1964)
Translated from Persian by Ikram Hawramani, Slêmanî, Iraq, 2008.

Footnotes

  1. A city in the province of Isfahan, Iran.
  2. The direction that should be faced when a Muslim prays during salah.
  3. The call to prayer.
  4. The second call to Islamic Prayer, given immediately before the prayer begins.
  5. The Kaaba, also referred as Al Kaaba Al Musharrafah, is a building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, al-Hejaz, Saudi Arabia.
  6. A Muslim relic held in the Kaaba.
  7. A large ancient archeological site (a tepe or Persian tappeh, “hill” or “mound”) in a suburb of the city of Kashan, close to Fin Garden.
  8. Bukhara (Persian: بُ), is the capital of the Bukhara Province of Uzbekistan.
  9. The tār (Persian: تار) is a long-necked, waisted Iranian musical instrument.
  10. A Sufi chant.
  11. Chimonanthus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Calycanthaceae, endemic to China. It is also grown in Iran.
  12. Refers to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered to be one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
  13. The Khyber Pass is a mountain pass connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan, cutting through the northeastern part of the Spin Ghar mountains.
  14. Banares refers to Varanasi, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India

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