Song of a Captive Bird


This book was also in the Random House email of books to look for in 2019, although it, too, was published in 2018. Though fiction, it is based on the life of Forugh Farrokhzad, the Iranian poet, who revolutionized Iranian poetry in both  form and subject. She wrote about her personal life which, was anything but traditional. She didn’t wear a head scarf, dressed in western-style clothing including tight skirts and heels, married her husband under “scandalous” circumstances, and ultimately left her young son and husband for several days to travel hundreds of miles to Tehran to try and get her poetry published. Her story is fascinating- like nothing I’ve ever read. She lived life on her own terms in a very restrictive patriarchal society, that sometimes was very punitive. She sacrificed a lot for the life she chose, yet, still was able to find moments of beauty that nourished her poetry.

THE BEAUTY: Losing her son, Kami, to her husband in their divorce was devastating to Forugh- a pain that she carried with her every day of her life. (In Iran, apparently, the father gets custody of the children.) This poem to him, in its simplicity, is achingly beautiful to me.

A Poem for You

I am composing this poem for you
on a parched summer dusk
halfway down this road of ominous beginning
In the old grave of this endless sorrow.

this is the final lullaby
at the foot of the cradle where you sleep.
may the wild sounds of my screaming
echo in the sky of your youth.

let the shadow of me the wanderer
be separate and far from your shadow.
when one day we reach one another,
standing between us will be none other than God.

against a dark door I have rested
my forehead tight with pain;
I rub my thin, cold fingers
against this door in hope.

that person branded with shame who used to laugh
at foolish taunts was I.
I said I would be the cry of my own existence;
but O, alas that I was a “woman”.

when your innocent eyes glance
at this confused, beginningless book,
you will see a deep-rooted, lasting rebellion
blooming in the heart of every song.

here the stars are all dim,
the angels here all weep.
the blooms of the tuberose here
have less value than desert thorns.

here, seated along every road
Is the demon of duplicity, disgrace and deceit.
In the dark sky I do not see
a light from the bright morning of wakefulness.

wait until once again my eyes
overflow with drops of dew.
I have taken it upon myself to unveil
the “pure” faces of the holy Marys.

I have cast away from the shore of good name;
In my heart lies a storm star.
the place of my anger’s flame,
alas, is the prison’s dark space.

against a dark door I have rested
my forehead tight with pain.
I rub my thin, cold fingers
against this door in hope.

against these ascetic hypocrites
I know this fight is not easy.
my city and yours, my sweet child,
has long been Satan’s nest.

a day will come when your eyes
will sadly quiver at this painful song.
you will search for me in my words
and tell yourself: My mother, that is who she was.


After Leila arranged for Forugh’s release from the Rezayan Clinic and brought her home to her mansion in Tehran, Forugh started writing poetry again. She was eating saffron pudding when she told Leila about having sent out some new poems for a book called, “The Wall.”

Saffron Rice Pudding
Serves : 8

1 C jasmine rice
6 C boiling water
¼ tsp crushed saffron threads
6 T boiling water
1½ C sugar
2 C boiling water
3 green cardamom pods, lightly cracked
2 T pure rosewater, preferably Sadaf brand (see Note)
Ground cinnamon and slivered almonds, for garnish

Rinse the rice  in cold water several times until the water runs clear. Drain completely. In a Dutch oven, combine the rice with 6 cups of boiling water and bring up to a boil. Simmer over low heat until the rice is softened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads into a fine powder. Add the boiling 6 tablespooons of water to the saffron and let cool. 

Stir the sugar, 2 cups of boiling water and  cardamom pods into the mixture and continue cooking on medium-low stirring frequently so the rice mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, until the rice breaks down and the pudding thickens, 20-30 more minutes. Add the brewed saffron and rosewater*, stir to mix.

Discard the cardamom pods. Spoon the pudding into 8 glasses and let cool slightly. Cover the glasses with plastic and refrigerate until thickened, about 1 hour.

 Decorate the puddings with cinnamon, rose petals and slivered almonds. If refrigerated, let stand at room temperature for 25 minutes before serving. 

*Using a high-quality, pure rosewater is essential here. Look for Sadaf brand.

  • IMG_0386As it turned out, what I thought were almonds in my freezer were actually pecans- not a flavor that I thought would complement the pudding. So I dusted them with cinnamon, sprinkled on a few rose petals, and called it dessert. Over the course of two days, my husband has developed a taste for this. I however, could not get into the rosewater, even though I bought “the good stuff.”  The Sadaf rosewater tastes so much better than the supermarket brand I bought a while ago for another recipe, but, sadly, it was not a flavor I enjoyed.


Sadaf rosewater on the left, Market Basket on the right.





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