The Owner of the Fish
Sonboor is the name of a sea.
In its heart there is an old fish
whose shining scales are stained glass
and in its belly you are appointed to priesthood.
The fish has four windows on each of which
a man’s story is recounted
(An extract from Nassim’s Testament)
صُنبور نام یکی دریاست
در قلبِ آن ماهییِ پیری هست
که فلس میرخشاند از شیشههای رنگی وُ
در بطن او تو را کهانت سپردهاند
ماهی چهار پنجره دارد که هر یکی
وامیگوید حکایت مردی را
‘The Owner of the Fish’ (Arabic/Persian ذوالنون) takes its title from a chapter in Vahid Davar’s elegiac epic poem, ‘Ahd-e Nassim’ or ‘Nassim’s Testament’. In that chapter, the speaker depicts a sea, the depths of which house a four-windowed fish in whose belly his deceased friend, Nassim, is appointed to priesthood. Each stained-glass window on the fish’s body relates the story of a man who has lost either a son or a brother. The priest enshrined in the fish may conjure up the biblical Jonas, who is called Zun-nun (the Owner of the Fish) in the Quran (21:87).
‘Nassim’s Testament’ is also a self-elegy through which the poet salvages himself from a violent migration. Davar arrived in the UK in 2013 as an asylum seeker, where he faced the need to remake himself. Throughout different phases of his out-of-placeness, the poet has needed to reidentify and reintroduce himself as an asylum-seeker, a refugee, an émigré, a migrant, an ex-pat, and so on, each word being the other’s shadow.
Hunting for his shadows, alongside composing lyrical poems, Davar has also been drawing mirror self-portraits to examine himself from different angles, resisting a flat self-image. Together with his lyrical poems, which have a confessional aspect, the poet’s self-portraits mirror a protean self which keeps slipping through the ego’s grasp. Not being exact likenesses of their prototype and each other, with their gleams, these self-portraits might call to mind one’s fleeting impressions of a fish flickering in dark water. Exhibited in the middle of the portraits is a fish from one of Davar’s manuscripts, bringing to the surface a flash of the fish which haunts the depths of the poet's unconscious.
Vahid Davar is the author of two volumes of poetry in Persian and a poetry pamphlet in English entitled ‘Something the Colour of Pines on Fire’ (Matecznik, 2022). His writing has been anthologised in Britain and Germany, and several poems have appeared at exhibitions of text and image in the British Museum, NYU Abu Dhabi, HELDENREIZER Contemporary, Munich, and FACT Liverpool.
‘The Owner of the Fish’ is Davar’s first solo exhibition of drawings and poetry.