New poetry by Tamam Khan, Jasmine Armstrong Marshall, Gary Margolis, Lynne Schmidt, and Steven Croft
In war there are no winners.
This war, in Afghanistan, was particularly doomed as an act of revenge.
Even though none of the people responsible for the 911 attacks were from Afghanistan. After the state refused to give up Osama bin Laden, the United States spent 20 years there, fighting America’s longest war.
And after all that, the retreat was hasty, the elected government fell quickly to the Taliban, and without humane and speedy evacuation of refugees, the situation in Afghanistan has become a different type of nightmare. War begets more war, just as revenge begets more revenge.
Below, you’ll find the poets’ responses with incredible new work by Jasmine Armstrong Marshall, Tamam Khan, Gary Margolis, Lynne Schmidt, and Steven Croft.
Stay in touch.
P.S. In case you didn’t see my last email, we’re partnering with POOR Magazine, Aunt Lute Books, and other to hold space for poets to talk about housing and gentrification. Our first event is this Wednesday, September 15th. I invite you to join us.
At the blinkered edge of dawn,
I can taste the turn of the year.
Fall snakes under the eaves,
The shudder of cold down
The spine, a foretaste
of death none can escape.
Twenty years before,
I saw the child cry out,
His face twisted as the rebar
Smoking at the foot
He was running in Khost–
From the fires we’d rain
From the skies, a Palindrome
For the Jets that toppled
Our proud fingers, killed
The office workers, busboys
Stock traders, the firewalking
Men who tried to save them.
I wanted our fire, to cremate
Those who hated us
Without looking in our eyes.
Till I looked on the boy,
I had sure and certain hate,
And no mercy
Although the shepherd
Tried to guide me past
The hellmouth gates
Only that child’s face
Saved me from entering,
Let my rage slack.
Today, the Palindrome
Arrives: the ruined face
Of another boy, beside
The broken vessel
Of the Marine trying
To keep order.
Could order ever come
From death midwife to
Death, new grudge
For the old,
The shattered sphinx
Of my nation’s empire
And the bodies in the
Of the people we hated
And taught and bombed
And tried to save.
Jasmine Marshall Armstrong
Afghanistan news has covered my head with a pillowcase.
An afghan is no longer a woolen blanket
but a human being living with death.
A girl, the sun of her
life lost in darkness, young girl,
is peeled like an orange at sunset.
Here are children running out of childhood,
being caught and caught—taken
for early marriage.
Afghani mother, grandmother,
each may be held in this shadow:
someone puts a chair-leg on her foot, pressing.
She really needs to wail, but can’t move or speak—
under her burqa.
Kabul Airport has become the body wrapped in pain.
A swarm, a flood, explosions,
a human hurricane whirling in chaos
searches for safe passage.
It’s that feeling
of your raised hands in surrender,
up against the wall
shot twice with a nail gun.
Icarus and the Falling Bodies
Maybe he didn’t get too close to the sun,
maybe his wings were made of something more stable than wax,
maybe he clung to the side of a metal plane,
maybe he was afraid,
but hoping up here he’d be saved.
Maybe his hands got tired,
maybe the air was too cold,
maybe it became hard to breathe.
Maybe when Icarus fell, he let go,
felt the wind gently kiss his cheeks,
allowed his eyes to close,
because this was the closest
he would ever get to freedom,
looked something like the sun.
Dust lifts from the valley road, and fear comes like a shadow
with the Talib soldiers in their green American truck.
Last week they came and took our donkey down the track
to the valley, whipping him along the way, tying him to the truck.
They burned my neighbor. Now they come to us, tell my husband
I will cook for their patrol daily.
Afterwards, the lines of his face moved into sorrow. Now he hides
in the hills all day with our sheep and oldest daughter.
CRACK of a gunshot against the mountain, and the tomato I cut slips
into the pan. Fear crawls my back, I cry into the smoke of the cookfire.
There is no time to spread our few plates over the carpet under the cedar.
Pepper and cumin for the rice still sits in clay jars.
As they come, I want to run into our house against the hill.
Only the tea is ready.
“Bakhana ghwaram, bakhana ghwaram,” I start forcing from
my breathless chest, “Forgive me, forgive me.”
Ghazals at the Airport
My love flies stand-by. A sparrow sits
on the runway, pecking the tarmac.
Her heart’s a carry-on.
Last night she packed a mountain of stones.
My world’s a perfect guilt trip.
In school we learned never to believe
in order, withdrawing.
Were told to stand in line, follow
the elementary rules.
How long does is take my love
to form a government
in my mind and hers?
She’s my love.
You’re my sparrow. Tomorrow
With my children grown and gone,
I have two free bedrooms.
I need to get over myself.
Invite your country to come
live with me.
Put my freedom
where my mouth is.
We can eat with our fingers,
feed each other.
Plant ideas like green things.
When there ever is next spring.
It’s not a good idea to give my love
a hard time waiting at a ticket counter.
It’s been a long day.
Fleeing the mountains.
Arriving a year early.
How many children can fit
through a hole in a fence?
Be handed to an army of strangers.
My empathy isn’t good
enough. It’s time
to put myself out. Let my love
rage in my heart.