Wednesday, June 5, 2013




                I   The Bride’s Price

 The henna leaves are cool against her hands.
She loves the greenery and  how they shine
beneath a sheer  curtain of mist – exclaiming; 

 How perfect  they  are,  fresh and smooth
before they’re dried then crushed for the branding.

                       *  *  *  *  *
 Now in the lamplight, an older woman laments
singing  of the bride and what may come.
I pluck  strings of the rabab  wishing
I could blend his rough feelings with its sweeter chords.

                      *  *  *  *  *
Near sunset, she kneels working her loom.
A burqa hangs on the rusted hook. Its netting
has begun to fray like her voice, almost hoarse
as she tries to sing -- 

 I weave a rug with the colors of our daughter’s hair
but in your eyes, the wool is more profitable.
                      *  *  *  *  *
Gunshots shatter the silence. She drops a  bowl,
its bone ware cracked  and gleaming
like that of the calf’s skull she saw
in the field  yesterday. Only today, she knows, she utters;

 Drought has dragged our streams into dust,
and now war lugs my fate into widowhood.

                    *  *  *  *  *  *
A shack stands in the shadow of trees
that still flower without rain. She lives there now
with a lamp, a stove and shelves storing
dishware and a broken doll.

 Her fingers unlatch a window
and the wind sweeps through with almonds.
Their fragrance  lighter than her mood, her song;

 I have a  few cups to fill and wash
but in my dreams, the mouth and clothes of a lover.
           II  The  Widow's Choice
        (Addressing  her foreign lover.)

 A girl in the village brags
how she will weave her brother’s shroud
and sew it with a strand of her hair.

A drone, she cries,  has made his young life its prey,
like an insect  ripping green off  the garden’s leaf.

And yes, I share her grief but spare my tongue
its bitter taste. Your picture always close, a soldier’s face
floating in the dark room of my heart.

                        *   *  *  *   *
 The river is warm. Its silt  soothing to  my feet.
Far better than your hands smelling  of gunpowder and blood.

This is how my sister sings of her husband
with other women who sing of theirs
washing clothes in the waterhole
where their shadows mingle
with the hot sun and circling hawks.

This is how  I shall never sing of you,
but tattoo your flesh with my tears. Joyous paint
to praise your strength and  patience  as you pour
oil into the evening lamp
so I can read and set fire to a thought.

Landay is a short poem of Afghani origin which means "short, poisonous snake". It has been sung by women for generations, even centuries. Always chanted verbally, it has two lines -- one consisting of approximately 9 to 10 syllables and the second consisting of 13 to 14  syllables. The themes are related to life; war, death, separation, love, marriage etc. Sometimes, these poems took an unexpected turn. They became forms of sarcasm toward the men who suppressed and dominated women in this strict, Islamic culture. Women spoke these verses in secret in the company of other women. If caught writing or singing poetry, the punishment would be a severe beating and the woman's virtue tainted to the extent of a prostitute. The first part of the poem employs this brief form (within the vignettes) to express the struggle and grief of Hadessa's life in a traditional manner.

The second part becomes a "landay in liberated form". Like the snake that sheds its original skin, this poem regenerates itself into something freer, longer and non-traditional. It becomes an extension of Hadessa' personal dialogue and widening perspective toward personal love, truth and need.

More on the purpose, schematic form and history of this verse can be found in the June issue of Poetry at”. It has a fascinating collection of modern and classic verses along with photographs of women in present day Afghanistan.


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