Cathexis Northwest Press
Sin & Sanctions
By: Zahra Tootonsab
“Now, Iran's nurses—the majority of whom are women—are among those bearing the
worst of the brunt of U.S. sanctions.” – Negar Mortazavi
we inflame under the mass of pungent napes
on hungry eyelids.
We know this grief.
Comes to us in seasons.
undoes your sewed face
& cries blossom
to new year celebrations.
Are we prepared
for the Persian New Year?
tables of rebirth
& hide under the carapace of prosperity
tastes like vinegar & garlic
apple & spoiled hours.
is dying & surviving our new octothorpe?
how we ache
for the fullness of your lips
& the loudness of your kisses
when falling in love falls
under this brittle bin of lethargy.
I still breathe
the days closer
for those days
when your nails
would scrape our dry skin off.
To dance in the space between toes
when your peristeronic feet claw.
We are ready to be grabbed & released
to fly our sanctioned wings today
I was born to poetry.
How do you need us, love?
Now, we can’t afford to be distant.
Zahra Tootonsab graduated with a BSc degree in Life Sciences at the University of Toronto (2019) and double-majored in English and Biology. In March 2019, Zahra published her debut poetry collection, titled The Aftertaste. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in the English and Film Studies program at the University of Alberta. Her academic interests are Eco-poetry, Eco-Criticism, Canadian Literature, Indigenous Studies, and Black Studies.
"The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is impacting people worldwide, and it has undoubtedly been the cause of my anxiety attacks and depression during the past few months. Two months before writing the poem and before Canada went into quarantine, my family and I were preparing for the 2020 Persian New year on March 19th. I called my friend Yasamin a few weeks before the New Year to ask if she knows a good Iranian store in Edmonton that sells all the New Year essentials for our Haft-seen* table: apple, garlic, vinegar, hyacinth, sprouts, sumac, goldfish, and some silver coins. I met Yasmin when I moved from Toronto to Edmonton in September 2019 to pursue a master's degree in English at the University of Alberta. She told me about her life in Tehran before getting a scholarship from UofA and moving to Edmonton in 2018. She told me again that day during the phone call about Tehran and how she plans to fly back on March 2nd to help her local hospital with the influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients. She was a registered nurse for four years in Tehran, and she felt obligated to fly back and help her people, mainly because most of the hospitals in Iran are understaffed, and the nurses are working double shifts. I told her its best if she stays home for now and flies back when things get worse. She told me that the situation is already worse. Two months later, I saw on her sister's Instagram page that Yasamin died in the hospital battling severe pneumonia. I cried for days. I barely ate food, and if it wasn't for my partner's love and support, I wouldn't have been able to finish my courses. I didn't understand how this could happen. She was gone for less than two months, and she was hospitalized for three weeks? How did she get so sick so fast? Aren't the hospitals taking any safety measures to prevent patient-to-nurse contact? So, I began researching how the pandemic affected Iran, specifically for the past few months. I learned that the United States' sanction on Iran is making intranational trades like medicine and medical equipment with the country impossible. Hospitals have a shortage of ventilators, testing kits, and general repository equipment to combat the contagion. Thus, Iranians suffering from rapid inflation rates in the country caused by the US sanctions are now being hit the hardest during the pandemic. I also learned that more than 138 health care professions have died since the outbreak. I was heartbroken, mad, angry, sad- I needed an outlet. I wrote the poem "Sin & Sanctions" to honour Yasamin for her bravery, endless love for her country, and friendship. The poem begins with despair, and yet, along the way, the poem finds hope for the Iranian people. This hope comes with wings and love to liberate Iranians, and perhaps the world, from greed, hatred, and sympathetic distancing.
* A Haft-seen is an arrangement of seven symbolic items whose names start with the Persian letter S, pronounced as "seen." The symbolic items are arranged on a table, and Iranians gather around these items, read poetry, pray, and wait for the New Year countdown to begin. For example, an apple (seeb) is placed on the table to symbolize health in the upcoming year, and coins (sekeh) are placed on the table to symbolize wealth in the next year."