Have you ever heard about our years of sorrow?
From fear of death we fled our homes for here.
We didn’t know we were traveling to the city of snakes
where the poisonous were waiting for us.
There’s no end to winter here;
the spring is nonsense here.
For years the flowers have been stuck in the fence,
their roots rotting under water.
Blooms have no colour or scent in this place.
The executioner cuts their roots
with an axe while the world is sleeping.
All the stems have been trampled under his feet.
All our yells remained silent under their lambast.
Only our mothers could hear us from miles away.
Now these mothers have died from being torn from their children —
My mother used her last breaths to call my name!
When they broke our bones without mercy,
they broke our mothers’ hearts too.
Oh God, we faced dying from the beginning of this journey.
Our boats sunk in the ocean —
How hard it is to watch children drowning at sea.
The ocean ripped infants from their fathers’ arms,
the ocean invited its sharks to feast.
With butchery they mauled the children,
one swallowing the hand, and another the feet.
One ate a child’s head, and another their heart.
Children, you were only our transitory companions —
We reached the shore without you.
How sad we were for you then, little ones.
But it is good you did not reach this land
otherwise they would have tortured you too.
They put us in this prison for no reason.
They tortured us inside this cage for years.
They attacked and shot, even wounded us with words.
This story is still going on…
We’ve witnessed the death of our friends in here:
we had no choice but to watch.
They won’t set us free until they send us insane.
To live here for even a moment is great torment.
We are killed and come alive again a thousand times a day.
Now we have only one wish —
To extinguish our lives and exit your city of snakes.
The Old Window
In an old tall building
I am lost in a dark display room.
Trapped in this cage
I long to sing like a bird —
but they’ve poured molten lead down my throat.
I would like to fly free — I tried for so long —
but now all my accomplices are gone,
leaving me alone.
My captors broke my wings and feathers
and I am left behind.
There’s an old window in my room with a rotten frame;
they’ve locked it with hatred and vengeance.
At night I see the shadow of the moon on the windowpane:
it won’t disappear, as much as I try to remove it with a napkin.
I watch the onslaught of the winds
as they steal the leaves from the trees.
I, too, know thieves like these,
who’ve ravaged my life, like a wind.
They’ve left a deep cleft of regret on my heart;
I’m a turtle who wants to fly like a bird.
I build a new window in my dreams,
facing towards the garden —
I hope to walk for a few hours among the flowers.
But even here, I can hear the cries of butterflies
as the flowers are torn up before their eyes…
I am afraid to sleep.
In my nightmares blood runs
from my brain and bones.
Poems translated by Mansour Shoshtari and edited by Michele Seminara
You can purchase Mohammad’s poetry chapbook, Truth in the Cage, online at the Verity La Bookshop in print or eBook format. All profits go directly to the author.
Mohammad Ali Maleki is an Iranian poet and avid gardener who has been living in detention on Manus Island and now in Brisbane Detention Centre for nearly seven years. His poetry is written in Farsi and translated into English by fellow detainee Mansour Shoushtari. Mohammad uses his mobile phone to send his poems to friends in Australia who help to edit, share and publish them.
Mohammad’s poems have been featured in Verity La, Bluepepper, Rochford Street Review, and by the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group. His work has been included in the Dear Prime Minister project and at the Denmark Festival of Voice. His poem ‘Tears of Stone’ was shortlisted for the Red Room Company’s New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 and received Special Commendation for extraordinary work in extreme circumstances. His poem ‘Silence Land’ was performed at the 2017 Queensland Poetry Festival as part of the Writing Through Fences performance, Through the Moon. An essay about his work has been published in the Extreme Texts Issue of Jacket2 magazine.
Despite living in extreme conditions, Mohammad continues to create poetry saying, ‘You can find my whole life in my poems, like a letter to God’.
Mohammed’s poetry chapbook, Truth in the Cage, was published in 2018. It is available for purchase in eBook and print formats at Verity La’s online bookshop.