Allowing Me To Leave… (for Asefeh Zeinalabedini)

Anita Patel was born in Singapore and lives in Canberra, Australia.  She is as Australian as a banana paddle pop and a pair of sandy thongs and she is also a part of the Asian diaspora.  She has been published in various journals including Burley Issue One, Block 9, Conversations (Pandanus Press ANU) and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.  Her work has also appeared in the Canberra Times and in an anthology titled Pardon My Garden by Harper Collins.

Allowing me to leave 1

ساربانا بار بگشا ز اشتران
شهر تبريز است و کوی دلبران

Oh Sārbān, have camels’ cargo unloaded,
For Tabriz is neighbourhood of the beloved.    

My friend Asefeh comes from Tabriz.  I have never been to Tabriz or met anyone else who was born there, but I am smitten by the beauty of this Persian word.

Tabriz conjures up images of bustling bazaars, luminous silks, rose water pastries, glowing mosaics and flying carpets.  I am dazzled at the thought of this place which seems a million light years from the ordered streets, pretty hedgerows and quiet suburbs of Canberra.

Yet now Asefeh lives in Canberra.  She is making a place for herself in the bush capital of Australia.  Her first big move was from Tabriz to Tehran.  She left the comfortable safety of her family home, filled with love and familiarity, and moved to Tehran to study at the university.  It was difficult for her father to give her permission to go on this big journey.

After her studies in Tehran, she made the courageous move alone across the earth to a new country – a strange country.  In her new city, there is no Blue Mosque or ancient bazaar.  This city is not the gateway to the Garden of Eden and it is a long way from the Silk Route.  There is hardly anyone here who can understand her language, Azeri, and there is nowhere for her to hear traditional Azeri music – the music of ashugh and the mugham.

But she enjoys walking through the frost and sunshine of Canberra.  She takes photographs of leafy laneways, misty mornings, autumn leaves and a gleaming lake.  She collects rugs and towels for baby kangaroos.  She cares for children, youth and old people in our city.  She writes poetry and performs it.  She makes many friends and shares her Azeri and Persian words with some of us.

Of course Asefeh yearns for the city of her birth – carpet sellers in the bazaar, delicious Tabriz confections (Qurabiya, Tabrizi Lovuez, Lovadieh and Lokum), conversations with her parents, her mother’s cooking…

Settling into a new city does not mean you can easily let go of longing for your old home.

Allowing me to leave 2

The other day, at a poetry workshop, Asefeh told me about a dream that she had one night.  She dreamt of her family home in winter – foggy windows, snow falling thickly outside and, in the warm kitchen, her whole family (including her grandmother who has passed away) eating at the table.  She included lots of little details, like a tiny spot of hot liquid from the bubbling cooking pot hitting her face, and her mother putting a soft cushion on her chair.  During lunch, her father gives his permission for her to go to Tehran to study at the university.

I was very moved by her description of this dream which depicted the moment of her first real separation from the security of her beloved home and launched her on the brave journey to a very different country…

Allowing me to leave 3

Asefeh gifted me her dream to turn into a poem.  This is the poem:

Allowing Me To Leave…

My mother ladles

hot, savoury goodness

into bowls

Outside it is white –

frozen and still

as my waiting heart…

I feel the soft cushion

placed gently at my back

I hear the hum of

familiar voices

at this table of loved faces –

brother, mother, grandmother,


Can I imagine a world away

from this warm kitchen?

Is there another table?

another stovetop?

another soup pot?

I dip my spoon into the

fragrant steam of my mother’s broth

and my heart melts

like snow falling

from trees outside

as I hear

my father’s words

allowing me to leave…

© Anita Patel, 2017