Lida Nosrati translating Fereshteh Molavi

Yellow Grey


They carry him in the dust. Heavy drooping shoulders. It’s not windy, or snowy. The coffin tips over to the left and right. Flushed faces. Smell of wet soil. It’s not rainy, or sunny. Hurried footsteps. They get farther away. I turn around. Mounds of soil, empty graves. Behind the dust, I see the cyclist. Who rides by slowly. Getting neither closer nor farther away. Turning, twisting, appearing, and disappearing behind the dry twigs. I turn around. Yellow, grey. Grey, yellow. I run after the coffin. Black clothes. He wants the sun to shine. When does the day break, he asks. You have no fever, I say. He doesn’t believe me. Why is my voice shaking? The trees aren’t blossoming yet, I say out loud. They are crying. I cannot believe it. He opens his eyes. I don’t want company, he says. I hold his hands. I feel cold. His large bony fingers move a little. His over-poked forearm, entangled veins, bruised skin, his painfully thin arm. I can’t leave you alone, I whisper. He shakes his head. I pull back my hand. His broad bony fingers curl up. Your hands haven’t changed a bit, I say out loud. He looks at me in silence. Dim, dust-laden eyes. Can he not see me? The voice of Qari—the professional gravesite reciter of the Qur’an—hits a crescendo and fades away. Heavy drooping shoulders, flushed faces, hurried footsteps, black clothes. I’m lost somewhere between the dark and light of dawn. Knees have given out. A hand twirls softly, draws a half-circle in the air, and falls numbly to the side. Are the dead left alone?

He doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t say it though. I should tell him it wouldn’t happen until and unless you desire it deeply. But I don’t. My voice of reason sounds like a broken wooden sword. He tosses and turns. I’ll die thirsty, he says. I put the wet handkerchief on his parched lips. Water can’t go down his wounded throat. I raise the head of the bed. Rest your head on the pillow. He hunches forward. I want to sit up, he says. I hold his arm. My fingers form a tight ring around it. A chill goes down my spine. He wants water. I untie the strings of the gown. I run my hand down his bony back. No sores. He makes an effort to lift his knees. I bring the glass of water and the straw closer to his lips. His arms and legs tucked in, back arched, head down, eyes half open, half closed. Like a fetus sucking up on the straw softly and slowly. In the borderland of sleep, he wraps his fingers around the glass. I tuck my hands in the pockets of my long coat. See, you can drink water, I say out loud. He doesn’t hear me. Like a fetus sucking up on the straw calmly. I step aside. I stand at the door. The hallway is empty. The nurse won't come. I get back in. I look at him. The fetus has taken refuge in a pale halo, sipping calmly and slowly. I call him. He opens his eyes. Is he left behind the dust? He’s shaking. I take the glass. He coughs. The wrinkled skin of his face turns purple. I lower the head of the bed. I put his head on the pillow. I cover him with the sheet. I put his cold hands over his chest. His broad bony fingers move a little. Your hands haven’t changed a bit. Does he not hear me? The purple turns sapphire, blue, grey, and yellow. Is the nurse not coming? I go to the window. I pull the vertical blind to the side. I look down. The cyclist crosses the quiet street in the grey dust of the winter. I turn around. Have the trees turned green yet? he asks. Soon they will, I whisper. Why is my voice shaking? I pull out the drawer. I take out the small record player. Do you want me to play Marzieh for you? He shakes his head. Soon they will. I cannot believe it. I run after the coffin. I brush my hand against the termeh pall covering the coffin. Dust-laden eyes, yellow face, half-open mouth. I’m lost along the way. Knees give out. A hand twirls softly, draws a half-circle in the air, and falls numbly to the side. He’s left alone.

He wants to die. That’s what he says. A broken voice comes out of his wounded throat. I must tell him it won’t happen until and unless you want it to. But I won’t. My voice of reason sounds like a broken wooden sword. I turn my head down. I smooth out the white sheet. We hear the footsteps of the angel of death every night. None of us say anything. Is the angel coming from faraway? Will the angel take him along? The angel approaches from the end of the hallway and reaches the half-open door. I hold my breath. He swallows his groan. The angel doesn’t take him along. Is he calm? He’s shaking. I must tell him it’s the night-shift nurse. I won’t. The door doesn’t open, and the footsteps don’t fade away. Is the angel not taking him along? I move. He sighs. Do you need anything? I ask. I can’t see his face. They cover his yellow face with the shroud. Smell of camphor. But the trees haven’t turned green yet. He can’t hear me. I cannot believe it. I must tell him to not move the IV. I won’t. Is it morning already? I pull the blind to the side. Here comes the morning. But not death. He’s still feverish. I put the blanket over his stiff feet. I put the palm of my wet hands on his cold hands. His lips move. I bring my head closer. Didn’t come tonight either, he says. Not supposed to come this early, I whisper. My voice is shaking. He doesn’t say anything. I count the silent drops of IV. I count. I turn around. In the yellow dust of the summer, I cycle around the house. Beads of sweat on the flushed skin. The heat puts the eyes into sleep. I wander in a state between wakefulness and sleep. Closed eyes, emaciated cheeks, wrinkled skin. He doesn’t want to see the sun. I never thought dying would be so hard, he mumbles. I don’t answer. Mounds of soil, empty graves. But your hands haven’t changed a bit, I say out loud. They are wailing. I cannot believe it. I go far away. I swirl; I turn. The lace curtain dances. The bike sways from one side to another. The window is half open. I stand up. I peek in. Voice of Marzieh singing, and fading away. The black vinyl is turning on the turntable. He’s facing the closet, with his back to me. He combs his black brilliantine-rubbed hair. Large bony fingers, broad forehead, transparent look. He smiles in a patch of light reflected on the mirror. He doesn’t see me. He doesn’t know me. I’m lost between the summer and winter. Knees give out. A hand twirls softly, draws a half-circle in the air, and falls numbly to the side. Will I be left alone?

They carry him in the dust. He doesn’t want to die. He wants the sun to shine. Knees have given out. I’m lost between yellow and grey. He wants to die. He doesn’t want to see the sun. Smell of camphor. I turn. Smell of soil. I turn. I run after the coffin. I brush my hand against the termeh pall. I sit on the heap of soil. I kneel before the grave. They pull the shroud away from the yellow face. Half-open mouth. I’m cold. You are cold, I say quietly. I put the blanket over his weak stiff feet. You have no more fever, I already told you, I say out loud. Dust-laden eyes. He doesn’t know me. His teeth clatter. His narrow chin shakes. His high forehead wrinkles. His eyelids close. I take a deep breath. His bony hands are on his chest, motionless. Is the cyclist still riding around? I count. I whirl in the dust; I whirl. I whirl. The wind nests in my dress. I say a prayer. I go fast. I laugh. I sway to the left and right. I move my arms up and down. I open and close my eyes. I walk fast. Do I fall? I don’t. Do I stop? I don’t. I feel light-headed. The sky goes farther away. The earth slips away from under my feet. I fall, I fall, I fall. The father’s warm big hands hold me. The winter dawn turns into dust. Is he left alone? The summer afternoon turns into dust. Grey dust. Yellow dust. I’m left alone.

Translator’s Note

The piece "Yellow Grey" may not technically fit the genre of prose poetry, or any genre for that matter, and this was precisely what drew me to it. It is the title story in a collection of short stories by Fereshteh Molavi, a Toronto-based Iranian-Canadian author. I was in Santa Fe in October-November 2014, translating a body of works by contemporary Iranian poets, and for distraction I immersed myself in any genre other than the immediate object of work at the time—a kind of translational superstition if you will. I read essays, critical pieces, memoirs, and short stories, this being one of them. The conceptual immediacy of the story, the rhythm, syncopation, and simple yet intricate and layered structure of it made me leave everything else aside and translate this instead. Just when I finished the first draft, a fellow resident at the institute, a visual artist, who paid regular visits to the Santa Fe National Cemetery as part of her project, came to my studio handing me a painting she had done of a gravestone, the entire colour scheme grey and yellow, only to know then that I was translating a story with the same theme and title. Death plays strange games on us.

Lida Nosrati

Lida Nosrati is a literary translator who lives and works in Toronto. Her translations of contemporary Iranian poetry, short fiction, and plays have appeared in Words Without Borders, Writers' Hub, and TransLit among others. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Allameh University and an MA in Translation Studies from York University. Lida has been awarded fellowships from the Banff Centre for the Arts, Yaddo, and Santa Fe Art Institute (as a Witter Bynner Poetry Translation fellow).

Fereshteh Molavi

Fereshteh Molavi is an Iranian-Canadian fiction writer, scholar and translator who has won awards for her works of translations. Listen to the Reed, a chapbook based on her dialogue with the award-winning Canadian writer Karen Connelly, was published by PEN Canada in 2005. Molavi’s writings have appeared in many Persian and English anthologies. Since 2009, she has published two novels and two collections of short stories. Her collection of essays, An Sal’ha, In Jostar’ha (Those Years, These Essays) has been released in Paris. Writing in Persian and English, she now lives in Toronto and divides her time between writing, running writing workshops and the Tehranto monthly book club, and advocating for freedom of speech and human rights in Iran.