Sin City, 2023, Sitara Abuzar Ghaznawi. Auto Italia, London, UK. Courtesy the artist. Photographer: Henry Mills.⁠

Everything, including the raw material of our intentions, was corruptible. So we chose to overstay our welcome elsewhere. No longer able to romanticise fugitivity, we rested our feet, warmed our thick socks on the radiator, decided to stop running with a finality that was as half-hearted as the faltering sunlight of a November morning. Our options were dwindling. We were dwindling. Separately, each of us took to the task of retracing. I went alone, up the sidestreets, down Shoot-Up Hill, my body conspiring against me, nearing the site of its formative terrors. My objections seeped down the drain. At home, the curtains were the way I’d left them, the way they’d left me. Hung heavy like a life sentence. A netted disaster. I had forgotten this, the laced, lavish decor of the dispossessed. I burnt frankincense on the stovetop the way I was taught, turning each rock over and over like a decision. I let the smoke invade my lungs in irregular breathfuls. My slumbrous odour of private rituals. Its scent visits me like a death, like a breeze knifing the chest, indiscriminately scattering childhood memories. Where does a memory live? It asks me. The muscle’s recollection of stubbing a toe against a chair. A health warning on a cigarette package, ignored. A man with his mouth open, attached to a tube. Peeling advertisements for Swiss beer, clear as Alpine waterfalls. Yellowing stamps. Mass-produced joys. Lapsarian beginnings. The long fever of growing up. 

What little life we survived on. We were rags dipped in vinegar. Withholding came to us as naturally as breathing, and took less effort. For dinner, we ate air and the Greatest R&B Music Videos of the ‘90s, in no particular order. We were a set of cliches burning by the bins. Girlhood was thrifted, an extreme sport practiced daily. Like ships embracing the jagged rocks, we anticipated pain before it arrived. We took to the anguished routines of salvaging. A pebble grooved into the palm, kept long after the glow of sentimentality has faded. What to keep for yourself, to yourself? What to throw away? Glitter and scraps. Our decaying rinds of audacities, our litter of unforgivable sins, chief amongst them the right to narrate our own lives, in our own muffled voices. Sing its soft architecture, its degradations, its falling apart at the seams. The found footage of this whole squirming thing we call girlhood, or history, or the history of girlhood, or the domestic sphere, or the beautification of this confinement. Tell the story backwards. Begin with the conscription. Your assigned hole in the mud. The mouth of the hole. The hole in her tights. The tightness of a face split into a grin. The pink rose, like an open blister, the dewdrop’s agonised suspension, its gradual descent down the stalk, down the windowpane, down a bathroom mirror fogged by late night desperation and fuzzy early morning reappraisals. 

The kitsch is a weapon, if you hold it correctly. Be delicate with your vengefulness. Take a symbol apart and devastate it. The rose is elastic enough for all of us. A Pompeii fresco abloom before an apocalypse. A blotch on a flag flown by the Paris Commune. Flower of primary identification and weeping English wars. Born of the frothing blood of Adonis, it returns again and again, peeking out between cracked concrete. A symbol with an immortal shelf life. A rose in the gutter. We hold onto this hood allegory, to the ghetto botany under our feet, the rapper’s celebration of barely surviving, barely making it out, but doing it oh so beautifully. Rosa abyssinica. Totem of hyper-feminine recklessness. Last-minute petrol station impulse. Latex, polyester, silicone, silk. Commodified mystery. The Facebook profile picture of your least favourite aunt, a drooping stalk framed with religious verse. I think of an Agnes Varda film, the actors’ brown faces lit by the refracted light of Isfahan. In Shiraz, the rose, like the poet, is a bruised witness. Women drag tonnes of petals on their backs, straining under bundles of fragrant labour. Their hands are calloused past the point of pricking. Blood is a delayed conclusion. Rosewater is rubbed behind the ears. A sprinkle of Zamzam. Black seed oil for a tired scalp. Ward to ward off the bad spirits. Air the house out. Trust in your hands. Catch your reflection in sheets of corrugated metal. Petals like flakes of ice, like the inner pink of the body. All around us is the detritus of living. Ready to be dusted off and mourned properly. Mourned while walking from one end of the playground to the other. From one end of the park to the other. From one end of the shop floor to the other. From one end of the factory to the other. 

Nostalgia is what we agree on forgetting. A sensation curling the toes. Funhouse mirror of institutionalised remembrance. A landfill site of disputes. I am at a distance, and I can still see your fires blazing. You follow me into every hallway. How to translate value from wreckage without becoming trapped at the site of the crime? I tried to live without residue and failed. Turning on my bare heel, I drove the wedge down my throat. Isolated the thorn from my side. Rejected the form I had been given. I receive only what I can hold, stay with what I can bear.