Where You Are

Visual Editions

Lila Azam Zanganeh

Map of an Impossible City

Map of an Impossible Garden

Map of an Impossible Love

Map of an Impossible Creature

Map of an Impossible Multiverse

Map of an Impossible Future

“There’s no use trying,”
she said: “one can’t
believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t
had much practice,”
said the Queen.

“When I was your age,
I always did it for
half-an-hour a day.
Why, sometimes I’ve
believed as many as
six impossible things
before breakfast.”

Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll


The impossible city is a city made of all cities. It is neither a city of the future nor a city of the past. It is a longing for the city. A city of stone and a city of glass. It is a city of spires and transparent abysses. A city of rivers streaming into an expanse of blue. It is a city of dubious beauty. Yet also a city of staggering beauty. A city of belfries harried by the screams of seagulls. A city of evergreen hills and lucid water. It is a city of children running down heaps of garbage. A city of drowsy bays and flying men and opal lakes. It is a city of sand and dunes, a city where the first and last human are covered in dust. It is a city of convents, fig-scented gardens and singing mounts. A city of redbrick castles with wide-open arms. It is a city of stone churches smelling of green water at sunup. A city of saints. It is a city of connecting islands. A city with only one weeping willow hunched over a promontory. It is a city of minarets and violet towers. A city of dreams long gone and lingering still. It is a city stippled with gold and yearning for the sun. It is all the cities you have seen and never seen. And it is the last city standing on the edge of the world, a second before the sun slips into the water.


My impossible garden is a garden inside a painting. Except there is no garden inside this painting. The garden is as large and boundless as the garden of the first days. There are two angels, much like young men, opening the way under a red canopy sewn with eastern flowers. Long ago they looked impassive. Nowadays they are smiling, almost laughing, mischievous. The haloed woman standing between them is wearing a blue robe with a white open slit accentuating the curve of a pregnant belly. She was once quiet but today she has stepped forward in a promise of music. Each attendant is keenly pushing the curtain away with both arms, determined to reveal the blue lady and her delicate cream-covered feet. The angel on the left is wearing red tights, a green robe and a pair of powdery pink wings. The angel on the right dons green tights, a rose tunic and a pair of green furrowed wings. Behind them lies the garden. There is a road that takes you there. It’s very hot on that road. But if you walk towards the mountain in the far background you’ll be protected by a nimbus of coolness. You must climb the mountain to access the impossible garden which hangs above and behind the painting. Once you stand at the very peak, quietly close and cover your eyes. You will see two small hawks prying apart the curtains of an ancestral forest overrun by sprites and microscopic creatures. There, in the center of that populous green, a single white egg will be waiting to hatch.


My impossible love smells of cloves and cucumbers. It shows me my own city and walks me into a maze of unknown streets. It is fleet-footed and crafty. It likes back-alleys and empty temples. My impossible love is frail as a morning rose. It offers a journey it cannot take. On the hour of departure it feels belied. My impossible love steps out on a mountain at nighttime. It’s content with the scent of frozen winds. It makes me walk the night in yards of snow. My impossible love teaches me cabbalistic signs. It drives me through decrepit harbors in faraway lands. It craves amber and tastes of darkness. (But it whispers an incantation about a word that will contain many words.) My impossible love appears on a plain beneath an ancient volcano. A witch has predicted its name. Its love runs like the wind. My impossible love is not revealed but chosen. It leaves footprints in moist earth. Its kisses can last several months. My love is a traitor and loves only itself. My impossible love is a passing fancy. A pale actor, like a mirror reflecting other loves. My impossible love is a soft-eyed creature drinking at the river. But its embrace is strong and stifles like a snake. My impossible love has black hair and melancholy eyes. It can love many things but none too much. My impossible love smells of cloves and cucumbers. I do not love it any more. Yet sometimes I love it still.


The impossible creature is a very possible one. She is a winged creature with celestial plumage. Now she sits stern and dark. Now she flits and flickers blue. She is the creature countless birds seek out. Thousands have searched, are searching still. Most have perished. Only a handful, this instant, reach her palace high above the winds. They have crossed seven valleys over a lifetime of flight. Languishing with desire and all-too-human impatience they ask to see her. Their bodies are charred, their wings nearly vanished. Their little life is running out. A chamberlain appears, making great show of his indifference. In breathless confusion the birds speak in unison. They beg for mercy, beg to see the creature. “To be disdained and insulted, but to be in her presence!” The chamberlain warns of heat, of fire and of annihilation. The birds, thirty of them, all that is left of the countless multitude, beseech an audience. Their little life is running out. The chamberlain falters, and disappears. There is a long silence. Soon a great fire arrives upon the birds. But instead of burning, or before, they see her face. And listen to what happens next. In their beloved’s face, befuddled, the birds see nothing but themselves. A miraculous symmetry. A divine trick of mirrors. The Simorgh is the si morgh, the thirty birds large and small. “Who are you?” they ask in concert. And she responds: “I am You. Now come and consume me.”


My impossible multiverse is a sea of fractals. Each fractal a word shaped like a curve or a geometric figure. Together they form a multiverse, forever expanding. An infinity of coastlines, awash in sunshine, or covered in symmetric snowflakes. There is spectacular beauty to this multiverse, as it reflects itself in progressively smaller scales. Back to its base unit, each word is a quartz molecule. A pinprick, an invisible string, energy let loose. It glides and wiggles. It pounds, too. It has a pulse. And a weight so light as to be almost weightless. Though if you are attentive it is a weight you’ll feel flying past you. In a moment the micro crystals stir and coalesce. They cause a first turbulence. From this turbulence, another. A jolt occurs. The air cracks open. Galaxies arise. A silver lock of hair. Half-closed eyes. Faithless hands. A first tremor. A live creature, then a herd. Here a bell tower strikes. Day and Night sweep in. Human emotions are called to the cosmic stage. Love and Pain make their entries, followed by a swirl of courtesans. But in this invisible bubble, not a single word gets lost. Not a sentence, not a poem, not a whisper. My impossible multiverse is a sea of fractals. Each fractal a word and each word a sound. A connecting solitude of intersecting curves. Coastlines colliding with planets. Fluids turning into crystals. Abstract spheres containing all memories and dreams. A web of pure beauty. Forever in my palm.


In the impossible future the Trojans will win the war. Troy will not be destroyed. Odysseus, full of wiles, will return home a little sooner, never to leave a second time. Instead he will die a peaceful death on his bed made of olive bark. He will die of heartbreak. It is Penelope who will leave him. (Footnote: Aeneas will found Rome, though with a glorious Dido by his side.) She, Penelope, will have waited full of yearning, but with her husband returned and no longer a hero, she will realize this: it was his imaginary story she loved, no more. The suitors will be growing old and Ithaca will have grown too small. Telemachus will have married a princess in Sparta. Presently the still fair Penelope will leave, resentful of having weaved and wept too long. Now it is she, weaving other stories, in other lands, who will continue the story. In the impossible future, Penelope will go to Rome to meet with the great poets of the Golden Age. They will teach her freedom, the arts of transformation. Years later she will befriend a seductress in Cathay and follow her footprints back to the Kingdoms of the West. Before long, in a secluded forest, she will come across two pairs of demented lovers and drink, curious, from the enchanted fountain. In turn she will go raging mad with love for a knight ever too young and green for her ghostly eyes. Terrified, he will run away for three hundred years. Her long hair white as snow she will ride on to a forsaken province, where she will dwell in an eternal orchard, with her bed carved inside a cherry tree.