Visual Diary

Breathing space, Iran

iran iskandar


It took me weeks to find a way to translate your kind of beauty into words. The kind that robs the breath from my lungs and keeps my lips hanging on to your name. I long for the day my lips will meet yours again, Azizam. To have your December sighs resting like sparrows, nestled within the cavities of my collarbones. I am slouching now, under the gravity of your nostalgia. The burden of this longing is much too overwhelming.

What is an honest way to pen down the complex conflict between fear and thrill landing at the airport in Tehran? Get a visa, and a whole new world in your palms. How do I find a number to round up the stars across the 60 miles of drive back to Yazd? I have never seen so much darkness and light at the same time. Or the way my feet sank themselves into the desert sands at Varzaneh, begging to never part ways from your earth? And when I treaded the entire spine of these dunes, I felt so high above and so down below. What was I feeling then? Tell me.

Whisper to me, gently. A way to describe the shape of gentle smiles across the streets of Esfahan. “Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast”, Isfahan is half the world, so the saying goes. That makes half the world smiling at me, and asking if I were Japanese. “Konnichiwa.” I could have sworn that even the winter trees were calling out my name. What was the temperature of the ravishing chills across the salt lake desert that tore at my bottom lip? What shade of red was that blood? And would you call that the sweetest taste of pain? I would. What was the sound of rain pelting down unto the covers of the guesthouse in Kashan at night? I need another term to marry the word I used to describe my fondness for the after-scent of rain. What was the angle of the sun when the stained glasses of the Nasir al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz breathed its uttermost brilliance? And how soon will one recover from such a magical spell?

How beautiful are the voices of your street poets, in duets with the ney? The name Persia starts with the letter p, so does poetry. Coincidence? I think not. How vast is your land; the chest that I made sure I get lost in – all ridges, rifts, and ranges. And how silly was it to get lost in your eyes – sometimes hazel, always deep. What is your name? Do your fingers ever part from the prayer beads? When I prayed in your houses of worship, what is a word to describe that profuse humility I felt under the wings of your muqarnas? You are a raging fire and I am a dying flame. But you kept reminding me, “We are all very much the same.”

How deep must sadness be to have your heart bawl out of itself in the middle of the Maranjab desert? Just you, the monumental stillness, and the profound knowledge at the idea of “temporary”. that what you call a realization that your heart will keep falling in love every time dust floats? I had many. You made yourself known to me; my clandestine with the Maker, and to the world, my romance with Light.

I do not think I can ever breathe easy again or at all, but I am trying, I really am. I love how you made me so confused of my feelings and I also hate you for that. I may not know what I am feeling; but Iran, you keep reminding me how to feel again.


Khoda Hafez. (Goodbye in Persian)

Words & photography by Noor Iskandar