Sister: a sequence poem by Marjorie Lotfi

Sister: a sequence poem by Marjorie Lotfi

Sister Radio by Sara Shaarawi was a Stellar Quines co-production with Pitlochry Festival Theatre which toured in autumn 2022. It followed the story of two sisters from Iran living together in a flat in Edinburgh for 43 years but never speaking to each other due to a past betrayal.

Following the tour, Iranian American writer Marjorie Lotfi created this sequence poem in response to the play, our SQ Engagement work and events happening in Iran.

Listen to Marjorie’s beautiful performance of the poem below or on our Soundcloud page.



i Before

We sat barelegged on that carpet
in the hall, the one we walked toe
to heel, telling our small stories,
concocting our fortunes. You sat

opposite me, my mirror image.
Follow my lead, you said, raising
an arm. When I dropped my hand
to my lap, like magic, yours lowered.

Again and again we performed this feat.
I am connecting our brains, you said
as if an explanation was needed.
I am leaving you in charge, I replied.

No, you whispered, then, more quietly
no, lifted a finger to my lips. Let me
tell you, you began, before my finger
was across your lips, stopping them.

What happened next: one girl rose,
put on her coat and walked out of
this childhood home, left Tehran
for good. It doesn’t matter which one.


ii Arrival

The new city is noisy, but not with sounds
I know. I still feel my sister’s finger
across my lips, study hard and say little.
When I ring home, only Baba will answer;
says the women are at the bazaar or praying,
even in the middle of the night.
So I speak to my sister in this new place
anyhow, singing the old songs, reciting
the Hafez Baba recited to us at bedtime.

Do you want to join me? I ask,
listen to the wind at the door.


iii Settle

My sister is a silence in the house.
I leave the radio on all day – the voices
I know – hear their rebellion. Every night,
I switch the sound off to add my own news,
report it aloud over my Koresht supper:

Today I spoke slowly, khaaharjoon, to confuse
a man I don’t like.

Today I wrote YOU ARE A BASTARD behind
another man (he couldn’t read Farsi).

Today I dodged the ticket collectors, like at home.

Today I wrote Mx on the paper at work, rather
than Mrs or Miss. (Why give in to this division?)

Today I lent my phone to a sick stranger.

Today, I stood in front of a car, the man behind
the wheel screaming at me.

Today I trusted my body to fight.


iv Fear

What I don’t say is I want
her to stay alive at all costs,
I want her to stay indoors.
Baba says it’s fine, says
she’s gone to the Shomal house
up North, there’s no signal.
She’s walking the beach,
zeebah dokthar, just like
you’re walking the streets.
Don’t worry, he adds.
There’s a silence before
he laughs with his eyes
open, watching me. I see
the neat earth rows of
our Shomal roses and us
still in braids, hiding between
the thorny branches, always
blushing and in bloom.

I check her accounts,
the last post unchanged:
a Nowrus feast, months ago.

At night, she comes to me
in her white hijab, reaches
out a hand. Well trained,
mine stretches to meet it.


v Apart

Some mornings, I hear her moving
in the kitchen. The bread bin clanks open
and then the click of the radio. Static
and the fine tune required to locate
voices in Farsi. (Does the dial adjust
while we sleep? Once set in motion,
do objects require an exact opposite
motion to stop?) A bowl is set on the table.
I wait for the cup and saucer to be laid.
When did we move so far apart?

The kettle boils, this hiss the sound
of Mama’s samovar, and when a chair
scrapes across the kitchen tiles, I dress silently,
push my door open, slip out into the day.


vi Fortune

I have no sister, but sisters.
We’ve lived in the same room
all my life. Today we wash
the cloud of starch from raw rice,
picking out the small stones.
Later, we’ll offer the tadiq’s
hard crust to one another,
hoping for a taarof in return.
As the coffee is finished,
I flip the cup before reading
the world in the upturned bowl,
in what is left of the grounds.


vii Feast

I want to hold a banquet in my kitchen.
I invite my grandmother, Mama Bozorg,
and her mother Afrooz, who ruled the house.

Her mother, Kanoom, is invited along with
her daughter, Soghra, lost and now found.
They sit together as if never apart.

I invite Nazanin to help as the only other
woman in the room who is still alive.
(It is too soon for my daughters.)

Together, we’ll write the names of the others
in our notebooks, across the air, stitch
them onto our hands and faces.

Masha Amini arrives first, because it began
with her. Nika Shakarmi and Sarina Esmailzadeh
hold hands like the young girls they are.

Ghazaleh Chalahvi sits, her head wound
still open. The doorbell rings again and again,
unnamed women with their lips buttoned shut.

We sit together, as at a feast. I raise
my glass to them, their rebellions, and they
raise their fists in return. It is not enough.


Find out more about the show and tour on our Sister Radio page.


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