More Bahar, more pigeons, pt. 1

Here’s a story told by Mehrdad Bahar,  son of the poet, about his father and some of the family’s troubles. It is in some respects a prose version of the Pigeon Poem. I found it at the lovely new site dedicated to Bahar, apparently with the backing of family members, and they were kind enough to let me use it here.

If you’re thinking “Enough with the pigeons already,” I’ll say this: 90 per cent of the few hits this blog receives are from people looking for Iranian pigeon sites. I’ve got my gimmick and I’m running with it.

This is Part One. I’ll finish it when I’m not so tired.

“Every morning, a riot of noise erupted from the pigeon nests.  Giving voice to restless songs and beating their wings impatiently, the pigeons sought to unlock the door to their cage, and when it was finally opened, an thicket of white, bursting with sound and beauty, filled the doorframe for a brief moment before exploding outward and upward into the heavens.

In a moment, the birds flew into the heart of the sky, growing smaller and smaller until, like stars pale and distant, they formed a Milky Way across azure space. Time passed as this brilliant stream of birds turned and whirled, nervous and precipitous. At times, a string of birds would detach itself from this group of rushing stars and find its own path, delighting in its independence, and then after a time, like a stream joining a roaring river, join the larger circle once again. At other times, a single pigeon, seeking after freedom, would fly away from his companions and released from all bonds, dance in the middle of the sky for a while, wings beating in a display of his artistry, and then return to take up his place once more in the flock.

The pigeons flew until they were filled to overflowing with freedom, and their passions turned toward seed and water. My father, alert to this moment, drew fistfuls of millet from a sack he held in his hand and scattered it on the ground near the nests. The birds would immediately begin to descend from the heights, circling lower and lower until the symphony of their beating wings filled the air.  Then the circle would shatter and a white flood would pour down upon the tall roof of the old greenhouse which stood next to the pigeon roost. Father called to them with a familiar tone, throwing fresh handfuls of millet about while the pigeons stretched out their necks downward, tilting their heads from side to side in order to better see the seed and water below.

Eventually, the first pigeon, wings spread, would descend like an angel from the roof, the beating of its wings an enchanting melody. The song swelled as one after the other joined in.  First a trickle, and then a roaring flood as the birds flew down to gather around the seed in a white and noisy ring, jostling each other about. The females busied themselves with chasing every grain of seed, though they kept one eye on the males all the while. But the passionate males, even while pecking at their seed, spread their tail feathers in a show of virality and stretched them lovingly along the ground. They strutted amongst the females, heads thrown back and their beautiful breasts thrust out, singing a proud yet beseeching song. The business of food and water is nothing without the business of the heart.

Father, bewitched by this tumultuous beauty so full of life, sat near the grape trellis and, watching, tried to feel this innocence, this heartfelt simplicity and then lock these memories in every detail within the treasure vault of his mind. For that one moment, he could free himself from the people below in the street.

But life could deny him these moments: they threw him in prison for political “crimes” and shortly thereafter they exiled him to Esfahan. Our life was shattered. Mother’s tears and her frightened silence, our thousands of unanswered questions, and being uprooted from our home as we followed Father to Isfahan stripped us of any sense of security. We had no choice but to leave our house and garden in the care of our old and trusted gardener. In the midst of selling all our things, we sold the pigeons. There were hundreds of them.

I remember that we followed Father to Esfahan, to the Bayd Abad district, where Mother and Father were reunited. The talk turned to the house left in the gardener’s care, and Father asked about the pigeons. Mother told him how they had been sold. For a moment, Father looked wildly into Mother’s innocent yet ashamed eyes and then, as if he had satisfied himself, walked quietly out, his face an ashen grey. As long as we were in Esfahan, he never spoke of the birds and, in fact, avoided speaking of pigeons altogether.”

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About M.C. Smith

translatingpersian@gmail.com View all posts by M.C. Smith

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