'To Speak of Sorrow' by Darius Sepehri

Darius Sepehri

Darius Sepehri

Darius Sepehri was born in Iran and moved to Australia at the age of five. He has an abiding passion for Persianate culture and poetry


By this contributor

‘I still have grief inside me, no matter how long my people’s been gone. I still have that grief, and tear, and rip in my heart like it happened yesterday ... Even alherntere, non-Indigenous people can feel it.’

Margaret Kemarre Turner,
Iwenhe Tyerrtye: What It Means to Be an Aboriginal Person (2010)

Tehran, April 1987: Going Under
Descending in a stream of arpeggio broken chords: as we moved through night and the vernal air down into the green earth, my mother thought she heard a children’s song on the stairs as the bombs fell cascading. Like bells, bells of Hades sounding out inverted intervals, the bombs fell interminably. The sirens that were singing sang us downward to the damp islands of the underground shelter, a honeycomb under the Tehran metropolis, buzzing with heat-maddened, with death-maddened men and women. My mother was quick with child and as she ran barefoot down the spiralling stairs she was engulfed by the yawning mouth of the desecrated earth. It was two months shy of my birth. All was opaque and suffocating. Concrete shards broke and fell from the ceiling, missiles rained down in deluge. As a whale yawning wide, trenches on the battle-front split and men were dragged into the void. Later, as I came up out of the waters, I knew this sorrow would abide. I tasted a fruit with an ashen core and I saw over all the earth ashes and soot spread abroad, veiling the stars, this shroud.

Vaslav Nijinsky, before going mad, wrote in his diaries that he felt the tremendous presence of god without fear: ‘I do not want to crack,’ he insisted, ‘but to say the truth.’ Decades later, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, driven to express his moral vision of humanity charged with responsibilities of compassion, might have said the same. Undergoing extraordinary anguish, Solzhenitsyn testified to our responses to life’s beauty and harshness. He sank into a hell but found there the possibility to realising a kind of heaven, fulfilling the desire expressed by Greek poet Odysseus Elytis: ‘I want to descend the steps, to fall into this verdant fire and then to ascend like an angel of the Lord ...’

It is little wonder that I crave depths, catacombs, the belly of the whale; that I seek nourishment like the heart-roots of  Tehran’s old sycamore trees. My life began with my mother’s descent into underground bomb shelters during the ‘War of the Cities’, late in the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam Hussein, deploying Soviet missiles, rained death on Iranian cities. Thousands of civilians, like hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian conscripts, were killed. The world watched, did nothing, and finally gave Saddam more weapons, including poison gas.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in August 2017, no. 393

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.