She tends the two lights – left and right –
of her headlamps, doesn’t care for newsprint
or radio, reports of blazes, the world on fire.
She can’t see the end, which house will be
her last, or which county, country.
She doesn’t worry about endings
but light (its absence), the cracking
filament, its cocoon of glass-like plastic
snapping open under the weight
of a stone or an animal’s skull, one slow
black wing. She doesn’t tend what’s behind,
refuses to look in the rear-view mirror
with its clarity of black and white.
She lets the red lamps of hindsight
burn out on a road she’s already
forgotten. The car is a womb and she
is unborn. Where are you from?
people ask. She refuses to say.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2020. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2020 was Janette Ayachi.
There is safety and stillness in this poem, but also a tender delirium, as things seem to carry an air of foreboding that encircles the character as she drives forward steadfast into the cryptic dark. I am immediately transported, and this is usually Lotfi’s magic; her ability to prescribe lucidity and transcend the reader into any landscape or passage of time she chooses. The car, the journey, the poem itself as the sanctuary, as the amniotic sac. This poem chimed with me because our headlamp blinkers were all switched on this year, and in rare suspended isolation, we too have recognised answers to our uncertainties, as by navigating in silence, we can ultimately touch upon peace.
This poem was written as part of the 12 Collective’s Women on the Road, a commissioned response to Emma Hart’s exhibition BANGER at The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. A few pieces in the exhibition – exploring “the car and urban landscape to look at how we navigate the world and understand ourselves within it” – depicted the reflection in a rearview mirror in only black and white. I used that idea, that it’s only time to leave when things are black and white, as a starting place to write a poem about a woman fleeing home. Of course, I had in mind that last drive out of Tehran with the city behind us on fire, not knowing where we’d end up as a family. But I also was thinking about how difficult it is to journey towards a new life: the determination required to focus on lighting what is ahead rather than lamenting what you’ve lost, and particularly the energy it takes, on arrival, to not be determined by where you’ve come from.