Saba Vasefi
The portable home


The Art Gallery of NSW and Red Room Poetry invited six poets to respond creatively to the artworks in Shadow catchers, an exhibition of photographs and moving image from the Gallery’s collection.


Unknown photographer Untitled c1900. Art Gallery of New South Wales, purchased 2014

Saba Vasefi’s The portable home is a response to an unknown photographer’s Untitled c1900.

‘Although I am writing in English in Australia, my emotion still comes from Iran where I was thinking in Persian’, writes Saba Vasefi, who is a multi-award-winning writer, journalist, human rights activist, documentary filmmaker, poet and Refugee Week Ambassador.

When reflecting on her poem The portable home, created in response to a photograph in the exhibition, Vasefi said:

‘I’m caught between two worlds and every day must fill the space in-between. That space is sometimes emptiness; poetry is a healing way to deal with that void, to pass the process of disenfranchisement and unsanctioned grief from having suffered the consequences of theocratic government and displacement.’

The portable home

Once, I went with the wolf to the desert 
to take back honey from the bear 
but in town my two eyes counted 
only for one. At school 
the only colours allowed 
were black, brown, navy or grey.  

To make a Muslim of me, 
they hid me in a chador. 
No matter how many holy verses 
they made my mouth express, 
no prayers found their God.  

I did not capitulate; 
with the heat of my eyes 
I incinerated the gates of Hell! 
When I was seven, to console my 
tears for the forbidden colours, 
my grandmother told me 
as we sat under a fig tree, 
the sky is the same colour 
wherever you are.  

When I was twenty-eight, 
I auctioned my kitchen garden 
to fly to a forest, 
yearning to burn. 
under an azure sky.  

I’ve found solace 
now, though I stand naked, 
stripped of the dour colours 
I wore when the Persian sky 
did not know my name  —
though raucous sky is not kind to me, 
not savvy to my skin.  

Tehran was a hoarfrost 
on my lips, Sydney 
is a cockatoo scream in 
my stateless mouth; 
and the world a 
Tower of Babel.  

I have tried insanity, 
I have taken every pill, 
even the moon, I swallowed! 
The ocean I swim in is blue, 
but not the blue 
of the Caspian.  

I am the blue desert, 
a pomegranate in bloom. 
The broken seeds are 
fragments in my mouth. 

I am a memoir in blood.  

The ink of all existence 
is the colour of the sky 
and exile is horizon without end. 
Salvation beckons 
like a lunar eclipse.  

I have travelled the clouds 
to change the sky’s mood, 
but it stays 
unmoved. I want to 
bring the moon to the ground.  

Within me 
I would fashion a portable home; 
wherever I go 
I live nowhere.  

Between the inhale
and exhale of my expatriate breath, 
I ask God to lift his feet 
so I can mop under my desk.  

He was my prison, 
but I’m always a woman 
with a body in the wilderness; 
not a prisoner in a tent. 

Saba Vasefi

Saba Vasefi

Poetic reflections is produced in collaboration with Red Room Poetry 

With thanks to Together In Art supporter: Presenting Partner of the AGNSW Contemporary Galleries UBS