Azerbaijan International

Spring 2004 (12.1)
Pages 124-128

Betty Blair
Beyond Borders

In Azeri

What defines a writer as Azerbaijani? What makes an Azerbaijani poet? Is it the blood coursing through his veins, or the DNA defining his cells? Undoubtedly, life experiences and perceptions impact the shape of ideas and words much more than a writer's biological makeup.
The quest of a great writer is to translate the specific truths that he finds in his own geographic and social context into universals that are applicable to all mankind. Such work knows no national boundary, though its setting and circumstances may be very specific to a particular locale on the globe or a unique moment in history.

Betty Blair is the Founding Editor of Azerbaijan International magazine, which was established in 1993. For the last 12 years, she has traveled back and forth between Baku and Los Angeles. She's the first to admit that her writing is deeply influenced by experiences and cultural sensitivities in Azerbaijan that have shaped her own thought. It's for that reason that we include some of her ideas here. Summer 2003 was the first time she ever picked up her pen to express herself in poetry.

This is the first time that Blair's poems are published in either English or Azeri, with the exception of the one entitled, "Democracy is the Right to Say 'No,'" which is posted on the Transnational Organization for Peace and Future Research organized from Sweden. See Features at

Hunk of a Moon
(Los Angeles, 2003)

Hey you, on the other side of the world,
Did you see that big delicious hunk
Of a full moon last night?
Rising in the Eastern sky
In early evening,
Shining so big and bright and luminous,
Between silhouetted pine and palm,
It seemed so near
I wanted to reach out and touch it,
And would have
If I had known that you
Would have...
Could have, too.


It's back up the mountains again.
I'm tromping in the foothills,
With my eye on the soaring peaks of the Caucasus,
Back in the climb.
Maybe it's fortune, not damnation-this eternal chore of Sisyphus
Pushing the load up the mountain.
Imagine what a curse it would be
If the only direction were down.

Democracy is the Right to Say "No"
(Los Angeles, July 4, 2003)

Democracy is the right
To say "no"
Not just sometimes,
But always.

Dictators always make us bow to "yes".
Why have the worlds' leaders
Stolen my right to say "no"?

What will it take for me to regain
The power and authority
To claim back my unalienable right
To this tiny, omnipotent,
One-syllabled word:

Guahibo Indian
(Summer 2003, remembering the Guahibo Indians of Corocita, Columbia, from August 1982)

Once I met a man
Sun-shriveled, short and stooped
In the jungles,
Deep jungles of Colombia
So remote...
It took two days walking,
Just to reach the nearest road.

This simple, brown-skinned man
Had no birth certificate.
He didn't even know how old he was.
We figured - maybe 60
From the generations of children,
Grandchildren and great grandchildren
He had fathered.

Me, so naive and proud
Boasted in front of him...
This man who sat on a bench
In front of a hut with its palm-thatched roof
And dirt floor.
"I've traveled 25 countries," I bragged.
He, in all sincerity, looked at me and asked so simply,
So profoundly:
"Did you find what you were looking for?"

Mulberry Tree
(Baku, June 2003, devastated by the loss of civilian life, now estimated to be at least 10,000, caused by the U.S. attack on Iraq. Update: In Oct 2004, the civilian death toll in Iraq was estimated to be 100,000 from the war according to Lancet Medical Journal.)

Last night
The voracious gusts of winds in Baku
Raped the Mulberry tree
And left all its delicious, delicate fruit
Abandoned, strewn across the roadway,
In front of unknowing vehicles.

Dusty berries,
Purples stains,
Life's juices squished out on the pavement.

This fruit...these life-giving berries
Are all lost this year...
Forever lost.

Will summer come again next year?
Does it make any difference
To those crushed this season?

Baghdad Donkey
(Summer 2003, reflecting on the chaos resulting from the U.S. bombardment of Iraq and how it is depicted in world media and how the lies and confusion hinder us from concentrating on our own responsibilities).

Hey you, donkey,
Wearing blinders
On a hot, dusty Baghdad road,
Trudging along in the midst of traffic jams.

Temperatures soar,
Tempers flare,
The air is filled with cursing, obscenities, damnations,
Confusion, anger, hatred, blame.
No electricity,
No traffic lights to impose order,
No authority to sort out the mess.

I want to be like you,
Donkey wearing blinders,
Blocking out the world's chaos
On the left and on the right.
Let me just plod along,
Destination: straight ahead.
I have a load to deliver.

Make way,
Donkey, wearing blinders
On a hot, dusty Baghdad road in June.

First Fear
(Summer 2003)

I remember my first fear.
I was a child
And loved to run barefoot
In the clovered grass
In the small village
Of my Tennessee home.

The sting of a bumblebee
Was my first remembered fear.
And I would run off, flying to my mother's arms,
Together, we would pull the stinger out.

But these days, my world is crowded with fears
Fears of natural disasters:
Winds, floods, earthquakes, sun
Fears of man's negligence like airplane crashes.
Fears of corruption
Fears of a knock at the door
In the middle of the night.
Fears of illness: some chronic disease,
Gnawing away at my flesh.
Fear of intrusion,
Of shock and abruptness.
Fear of losing those whom I love most.

Oh, where is my bumble bee?
How I wish I could trade in all the fears
Of my world today,
For my bumble bee of yesteryear.

(Summer 2003)

The miles hide your smile
The distance blurs my vision.
I can't read your eyes
Eight thousand miles away.
Blinded, I grope to feel
Your voice
On the telephone.
Calm and warm,
It embraces me,
Punctuated by a childish giggle,
What my heart most
Wants to know:
"All is well."

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