I had been wrestling for some time with a scheme to illustrate in photographs Royai’s book of poems “Seventy Gravestones and though I couldn’t shrug off the idea, nor could I make it work. Finding Zahra’s grave in “Behesht Zahra the great Tehran cemetery, seemed simple at first:
“Here is my heaven made from stone. A stone turned to chalk is no longer stone. It eats a name and becomes that name. A piece of glass or a mirror should draw the light, the dream of a minaret. On the grave is an earring, leather notebooks, a pen a lock, dropped inside the fence.”
But after countless visits to city and village graveyards in search of images, it was becoming clear that Royai’s philosophy of death finds its ideal form in the poems themselves, and that my plan was a foolish one. Royai was inspired to write “Seventy Gravestones” by a trip to the cemetery of Sefidchah in Damghan, eastern Iran, where hundreds of elaborate graves stones are inscribed with symbols depicting occupations from past lives. His poems take their form from the headstones but on that crisp day I saw nothing of these sculpted poems in the bare stones of Karimabad. There were no tombs engraved with trees, no flowers, fruit or birds, no creepers, candles, cake or cloth. No scale or sickle, scissors, spool or rod, no arrows, rope or lock, no earrings, mirrors or frames. Of his “Seventy Gravestones” not one would belong in Karimabad, the grave of an unknown soldier.
The gravestone is empty, smooth, clear of any words. (And beside any tomb or fence should lie a single old military boot). And beside that boot a cluster of wheat, yellow and brittle, in place of the name that is not there. And a few rocks around the grave.