Today, April 27, it’s Carry a Poem in Your Pocket Day—#PocketPoem. This is one of the many festivities of the National Poetry Month. So, what’s the poem in your pocket?
If you recently broke up with someone, perhaps a Pablo Neruda: “Tonight I can write the saddest lines. To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her. To hear the immense night, still more immense without her. And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.”
Or, if you are a woman feeling empowered, how about Maya Angelou’s fabulous “Phenomenal Woman”: “Now you understand / Just why my head’s not bowed. / I don’t shout or jump about / Or have to talk real loud. / When you see me passing, / It ought to make you proud… ’Cause I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me.”
If you are seeking inspiration, “The best ink” is a short but profound poem by Cuban poet and dissident Armando Valladares. He wrote it with his own blood while he was in prison in Fidel Castro’s gulags serving a 22-year sentence for refusing to say: “I am with Fidel.” “They have taken everything/ the pen/ the pencils/ the ink….” Hear him recite it below.
Today, the poem I carry in my pocket is authored by a prisoner of conscience, Mahvash Sabet. She is serving a prison sentence in Iran. Her crime? She is a member of a minority pacifist religion called the Baha’i, which Iran’s government considers to be a heretical sect. Like many other Baha’i educators and leaders, after Sabet was fired from her job as a principal, she joined an underground teaching movement for fellow Baha’is called the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
Secretly, the BIHE met in teachers’ homes to offer a college education. As teachers around the world learned about the movement, they skyped in from Canada and the United States to help out. Although Iran refuses to recognize the institute or any diploma given to any Baha’i, the stellar students of this underground institute have been accepted in universities around the world including Oxford in the United Kingdom and Columbia University in New York.
Another Baha’i woman also joined Sabet in underground teaching, a psychologist and teacher by the name of Fariba Kalamabadi. Both were arrested in 2008. They are widely known in the human rights community as part of the Baha’i Seven—a group of seven leaders in prison. They have all served almost 10 years, often in solitary confinement and always in dreadful conditions.
This is a poem Mahvash wrote for her occasional cellmate, her friend and fellow educator, Fariba:
To Fariba Kamalabadi
O my companion in the cage! How many cruelties we saw together;
how many favours too and blessings in our isolation.
[…] They tied your wings to mine, feather to feather,
and you rested your head beside mine every night.
[…] A hundred stones have bruised our breasts and lips, but they are sealed;
all the false charges which were hurled against us shall melt away.
O my companion in the cage! May your cup fill with faith and your breast brim with the remembrance of His loved ones.
May your land flourish, your heart leap in ecstasy forever, and your memory rebound with the jubilation of the people of Iran.