Afghan Poems


Two pairs of well-used leather shoes
belonging somehow together,
we sit in the sunlight by the door
and go over each other's past.

You are the afterthought of a Roman calf,
born in the shadows of a goddess's temple,
bred to wisdom and vanity, from life to death
you are grown into the centre of all attention

then a king made two shoes from you and gave you to a monk.
Meanwhile, I was a baby Elk in China.
The Mongols made a shield of me, the Persians
a parchment in Balkh, and in Bamiyan
I acted as a standard all could see.
In Kabul I fell into the hands of a cobbler
before a thief with one eye bought me.
You, from the time you were a pair of shoes,
up to this present moment
have remained essentially the same.
The monk and subsequent generations
neither wore you nor noticed you much.
You're still remarkably fresh

but I have walked among robbers
day after day and night after night
and they dragged me with them to here

where now we sit by this door in the sun
and forever have known each other,
since we are two pairs of shoes made from leather.

The woman

the woman who knew how to cry naked

the woman who knew how to write crying

leaned her nipples against the fish tank and

cried naked onto the fishes

cried naked onto the knitting

the woman who knew how to cry and sweep naked

naked the woman who had eighteen hundred mirrors

on a single yellowing wall

reached for the spices burning her tits

the woman who knew how to cook naked

bled where she passed the cloth the floor buffer

the woman who knew how to menstruate naked

the woman who menstruated playing the harp naked

also shat the woman who knew how to piss naked

looked at the naked chicken on the board

shoved her finger up the chicken’s arse shoved in the nubs of garlic and skinned peppers

the naked woman and a cleaver in her right hand

the woman who knew how to cry naked

the woman who knew how to belly laugh naked

was the name of the cigarettes favoured by the husband of her neighbour


And the earth shakes 

Waves take wing

People are reaped

And like Doomsday mother and son are blind to one another

What catastrophe has struck God’s earth

So that people shield their noses from the stench of flesh

Nature is playing a game 

People were fishing unaware

That in Nature’s game 

The fish will get their fill of them 

When the earth was swept from under the feet of the servants of God

The adults cried

O Lord 

O Bagwan

O Jesus… Buddha… Moses… Help

But the children and the mad didn’t know 

Whom in the heavens to ask for help

First they laughed at the tremors then died

They were blessed not to know

The sky was still blue

No one said a word

Their laughter lost in the noise of the waves 

But in the dark night

Women are still looking to the waves

For the lamp of any fisherman’s boat

There is no adhan in the mosques 

No bells are ringing in the mandirs

The church crosses are broken

People strangle one another for the charity bread of the rich

While babies

Suck blood from their dead mother’s breast




The earth is full of people 

Some burn in fire some in war

Some are swallowed by the earthquake under soil and water

And again humanity understands 

That death is the agony of widows and orphans 

Not those who perished 

The tragedy of death lives on 

Playing with the tears of the Indian and Bengali women

But the dead know none of this




A madman was sitting on a branch of the tree

The tree standing in the mud

Like a bird the madman survived 

He wept and laughed 

And said

War will still rage somewhere in this world

And some people will crave the blood of others

Here Nature helped them 

Nature wept

So that the warriors 

Might have their fill

And bring an end to war

The madman wept and laughed

The tree still stood

And like a bird he survived