Tuesday Poem

Bamiyan / Sang-e Sabur
Zara Houshmand

It was the beginning of spring: a new year

laid a finger on the balance of night and day.

Tiny green tassels ruffled the black fields,

the thirsty earth drank snowmelt, and wild

hyacinths, like headstrong brides,

experimented with perfume.

The stutter of guns. Silence. The guns again,

seconded after a heartbeat off the cliff face.

We drummed debate till the lamps died, nightly:

Idols or empty stone, round and round,

history and the eye of the beholder.

Guldar’s eye is blind to all but Roya’s beauty:

Guldar the half-wit, Roya the hairlip,

beauty hovers between them.

History’s a harlot, faithless, prone

to unprovoked fury: crockery flies,

the ceiling falls, the story lies broken.

Back to the plough you go, hungry.

History, would you stone her?

Their gaze is wide as sky and furrow-straight as time.

Philosophers at night, farmers in the morning,

foot in front of foot. Time is braided,

time is spinning, time is frayed. Between lying

and waking, seed and harvest,

what catastrophe lies curled?

Into the plough you lean, fated.

The inarticulate stutter of guns. Then silence.

Stone holds stories without anger,

silent against history’s rage.

Heart speaks to patient stone,

to the river egg in a rag nest

that serves as a sad bride’s friend.

Stone hears, stores up sadness,

gathers pain until it holds no more;


it shatters.

An old wives’ tale but true.

Their lips betray no sadness, no anger. They listen.

There is science in the patient stone,

the whelm of wave upon wave.

As when pain is neighbor to pain,

face echoes face, heart

looks haggard in the mirror.

As when history stamps her feet and flings her skirt,

the cliffs tremble, the mountains throw dust on their heads.

The rude guns. The tongue-tied, stuttering guns

chip away at fingers, one by one.

Dust blossoms at mortar blows, at the tank

craning its neck up the cliff face.

Did they think this enemy was flesh?

Mortars against mountains.

Each day, the sun’s shadow wiped their brows again.

Our nights passed in silence then.

Agha Mohandes orders dynamite and drills,

determines fracture points. I, bande, humbly

turned slave, or worse: a slave has value,

a spider at gunpoint, riding old rope.

Like a crawling thing. Clinging,

afraid of the upside down sky,

the waiting earth.


the unbinding of stone;

liberation of dust.

The sky reels, churning, and the dust turns

like mud on a potter’s wheel.

Dust settled like summer on eyelids, wintered our lashes.

It was the beginning of spring.

Foreigners gather the pieces now, sorting rubble,

numbering clods. The children mock,

throw pebble gifts and fists of dust:

Sir! Is this what you were looking for?

Silence sweeps the valley, unbound.

When the wind calms, you can hear them listening still.

The finest of powders coats the windowsill,

sifts like ash on the bread,

catches light suspended

at the end of a breath.