Newtown Literary contributor: Sahar Muradi
It takes a desk: Notes on my workspace
I would describe my workspace as part ancestors, part amulets. Part perspiration, part prayer. I need channels in order to channel. Among them:
An old Underwood from our now-gone, eccentric landlady (Martha Fedorko), broken and too heavy to trek across the city to any of the last remaining typewriter repair shops. Better instead as a kind of shrine to: my father, who passed a year ago, posing here in Kabul as a young George Harrison (allegedly why my mother fell for him); a memory of Martha for the Typewritten Tales of the LES at my community garden down the block (this carbon copy mine, the original fluttering on a clothesline in the garden); a pigeon postcard from the dreamy Purgatory Pie Press; a felt Kyrgyz shepherd from my Kyrgyz friend Zura with a spear of East River driftwood from my neighbor Tom; above them, my grandmother (father’s mother) as a young woman in Kabul, who in her old age, upon my grandfather’s passing joyfully announced, “finally, my queendom begins!”
A Borges quote I only realized was a Borges quote recently with Google but which had prior eluded yet always guided me, first as a scribbling teenager in Florida and on loose-leaf, then as a bibliophile at Hampshire College and on a torn page of a gorgeous children’s book, finally as a photograph of the page, not as memorial but as now, as current, as always, the only reason I drag my pen across the page.
In another life, I would have made books. In one past, I did. These the relics: accordion, appropriated, stitched, sketched, collaged. Journals, calendars. And crowning them, my soft bat, after the title of my manuscript at Hampshire: A Bat is a Leather Butterfly, or the Wonder of Being Several, a bound book of personal narratives and family photos, now poorly archived on the top shelf. In my native Dari, bat translates to “leather butterfly,” and is my most beloved compound word in Dari, which is deliciously peppered with them and some of which I’ve collected also in a made book (another, for your delight: ham sayeh or “shared shadow,” meaning neighbor). And in the wing of this leather butterfly, a button from the Brooklyn College Women’s Center: “If I wanted the government in my vagina, I’d fuck a senator.” Amin.
My “God Box,” a floral tin filled with paper prayers, snuffed candles, and past ills. As in the tradition of Nowruz or Persian New Year, where one writes the heartaches of the past year on paper and throws them into a fire (or tin in lieu of flame) as an act of shedding the old and inviting the new, singing, zardi man az tu, surkhi tu az man, “take my yellows and give me your reds,” my tin rattling with countless and tired yellows. Before my God Box, three wise coral; atop it, three clown friends; beside it: my mother’s father in Kabul in his karakul hat and to whom allegedly all men would tip their hats, and before him, a bell, under which I won’t tell you what lives.
Some twenty years of morning pages (ala Julia Cameron) and journals and diaries and fragments and the often shameful and the occasional jewel.
My friend Salaam from Sokela, Mali, who had the uncanny ability to always call me when I was at my bluest, as if he knew, and it never seemed to matter to either of us that he would speak entirely in Bambara, of which I knew little, or that we would volley back and forth, “hello,” “how is your family,” “how did you sleep last night,” “thank you,” again and again and again, until we’d grow hoarse from laughing and our mouths tired from smiling, and he’d burn through his phone credit.
This severally rare phenomena: That my father visited me on his own, that he attended my graduation from the Brooklyn College MFA program in 2015, that he called me a shaahir, “a poet”—no small designation in Afghan culture—and that he gifted me this poem by Hafez he wrote by hand and himself placed in this precious, proud-dad frame, and Hafez because he was our family muse, his diwan what we’d turn to in times of distress, and this poem because it contains my name, Sahar (meaning “dawn”), and my partner’s name, Nico, (meaning “good”), but which I could not read myself because I could never read my father’s letters, his alphabet I mean, and the pain of that, of never knowing him near enough, our twin failures, all of it in this small rectangle.
My current stack (well, one of several lining the apartment), each at once a solace and a spur, and yet, in their sum, a kind of finger wagging.
What reminds me not to “should all over myself”: a little cut-up playtime with old issues of Harper’s and the Anthology Film Archives Calendar – a creative reboot. A reminder to keep playing. And keep praying.