Reviewed by Kate Rogers
The poems in Khashayar Mohammadi’s new poetry collection, Me, You, Then Snow, skillfully evoke the surreal nature of everyday life as the young narrator searches for self-understanding in our age of profound uncertainty. The poems explore the evolving self without self-centeredness. An epigraph from Khurdish-Iranian poet and actor Hossein Panahi sets the scene for revelations: “Alas! Who was the third one weeping? I thought we were only two.”
The first section is comprised of the four-part poem “Moes’ Skin” which reads like worship and intones like prayer. There are startling images of whales and a wolf-pack in a lover’s eyes as they lose compassion. The narrator dances the Buddha and the Adhan—the Muslim call to prayer—while the lover’s eyes bleed the aurora borealis and sleep through forest fires.
In part two, “Dear Kestrel”, the poignant epistolary poems to a friend and lover express longing for their past connection: “In past midnight hues of neon/I can hardly see you Kes/A memory blurred into a city blurred/without my glasses.”
In these poems, no matter where the narrator goes, he is in dialogue with the lover, “Dear Kestrel” and sees the present through the lens of their shared history. Missing “Kes”, the narrator considers homelessness, loneliness and other acute vulnerabilities witnessed with the friend/lover.
In the third section “Salon”, the poet demonstrates characteristic empathy and tries on a lover’s skin in the poem “this poem wears your clothes, sleeps in your bed, but is not, in fact, you” dedicated to fellow poet and partner, Terese Mason Pierre:
“kissed/under the throbbing veins/of this city” …”our bodies/entwine/into a slip knot: tears shed/over fulfilled wishes”…”holding you I unlearn object permanence/step in front of the mirror/wash my face for you/down the drain it goes”
The poet evokes the shifting personae of the courageous gay Japanese writer of Samurai descent, Yukio Mishima, in the poem dedicated to him, “Sun and Steel”:
“Sun: holds earth/holds us/holds death”… “Steel: is death/the eloquence/of instrument?”
“Sun: shaped/into daggers/piercing”… “Steel: shaped into light”.
The poems in the section, “In Loving Memory of Midnight” express the Weltschmerz of the young facing all the uncertainty of the world. The ominous poem, “The Pencil Sharpener” illustrates this well: “woodchips in the basin/ the dog’s swallowed a piece and pierced his stomach/ winter’s knocking/ on the workshop door/ a storm’s brewing/ and the earth and I’ve got a minute/till our embrace becomes fatal.”
In the poem “Vancouver” from the same section, the narrator froths at the mouth, “imitating the ocean”//Out of place, he feels “…I don’t belong/…full of waiting/hours spent/hitching rides/on strangers’ lashes”. In the poem “Hunger” the narrator has “Constipated thoughts/of teenage insecurity”. “How can sugar/remedy wounds of love?” he asks.
In the disturbing poem “Greg’s Goodbye Party”, also from the section, “In Loving Memory of Midnight”, the narrator yearns to feel and yearns to stop feeling:
“Greg’s muscular friend/ flashed us his 8 pack/ he was cirque du soleil/ I asked him for a punch/and he delivered/right in the abdomen// I cried from Joy/ came lucid from pain/ the pain strong enough for me to clog and unclog a toilet// [pause]// static crawling up and down. no signal./ jump-cut to you yanking me off the rooftop ledged/ death gleaming in your eyes/ you screamed “What where you thinking?”// and I fell silent/ I’ve been thinking of Houdini all the while.”
“Greg’s Goodbye Party” strikingly evokes the inner turmoil I’ve heard expressed by so many young adults I’ve had the privilege to teach.
The final section “Homohymns” is a witty play on the word homonym–“a word of the same form as another, but with a different sense” (Oxford Concise Dictionary). Double entendre can be appreciated in the sensual poem, “Homonymic” from that section. Sitting on the seashore, the narrator is “driven mad/frothing at the mouth//flossing crabs through rocky teeth”//sitting “on a saline tongue/the two of us”.
In “God Gone Astray In The Flesh”, also from the section, “Homohymns”, the narrator considers his “…mother tongue/entwined/a new set/of vowels/for this chilly night/of consonants”/… where “past is lowly/a place of pasture/past is a dialect/I no longer speak/fluently/and my present/ is hemorrhaging selves”//
As the poem continues the narrator asserts one of his multi-faced identities, “I wanna be on my knees/hearing/’[shut up and] suck it’”/and I’ll do both//without moaning/the tongue can explore/much”.
I recommend the transformative journey which is Me, You, Then Snow. Khashayar Mohammadi’s collection is a feast of raw, passionate, unflinching poems.
Me, You, Then Snow
by Khashayar Mohammadi
Gordon Hill Press
Kate Rogers (she/her) has poetry forthcoming in the anthologies: The Beauty of Being Elsewhere and Looking Back at Hong Kong (Chinese University of Hong Kong). Her poetry recently appeared in the Quarantine Review, the Sad Girl Review: Muse, Heroine and Fangirl and the Trinity Review. Kate’s creative non-fiction essay “The Accident” is out in the spring 2021 issue of The Windsor Review. Kate’s work has also appeared in Poetry Pause (League of Canadian Poets); Understorey Magazine; World Literature Today; Cha: An Asian Literary Journal; The Guardian; Voice & Verse; Kyoto Journal and the Montreal International Poetry Prize Anthology, among other publications. She re-patriated to Canada in late 2019 after teaching college-level language-through-literature for more than twenty years in Hong Kong. You can read her work at: katerogers.ca
Khashayar Mohammadi is an Iranian-born, Toronto-based writer and translator. He is the host of knife| fork | book’s monthly Chapbook Club and the author of chapbooks Moe’s Skin with ZED PRESS and Dear Kestrel with knife | fork | book. He is currently working on a full length translation anthology of contemporary female Persian poets.