In that Part of the World
—by Raza Ali Hasan—
The sky here is American like the blue of your eyes;
the folds of your eyelids the Hindu Kush mountain.
The rich vein of the Hindu Kush only a stony ridge
cutting across the parched soil of Afghanistan
on which the primal play of progress comes to pass.
Locked in, its people:
nomadic, peasant or simply pleasant,
green-eyed, blue-eyed, brown-eyed or simply wide-eyed.
Its great teacher: Noor Mohammad Taraki,
the proud translator of great works
into Pashto, Dari, Turkic and Uzbek.
Its cities: Herat, Kabul, Kandahar.
Assuredly, the pilgrims descend the emerald-strewn
Panjsher valley. They have come to water and tend
a young tree. Time is at hand, for the unhurried
descent of the Western offering,
whose yellow parachute will slow its fall.
And this tree, which will grow underneath the cluster bomb,
will hold up the pomegranate to the blue sky.
The tick tock and whirr of metal and material
in the hidden azure vault of the air
has so far unleashed the American ahistoricality
upon the two tall Bamiyan Buddhas.
Ordained stone must give way to bared rock face.
Grieve not. Rejoice, for the spirit triumphs here.
When Kabul was as beautiful as Leningrad,
when our hearts hadn’t grown weary,
when Taraki could take a stroll down
the streets of Kabul with a confident smile,
when he could still be Afghanistan’s Maxim Gorky,
when our erstwhile bachelor could enjoy
the company of dancing girls like a mogul emperor,
when the way forward was the way forward.
The uncertain exile is never to Rome—
no picture postcards of the coliseum to send home—
but to a mud hovel among other mud hovels
by the edge of the city of Islamabad.
For the uncertain exile has nothing to do
with the divine or with any other kind of comedy,
but with what has remained or with what reminds:
with the trace of terror that persists.
In this part of the world the children know and have desires
to be a martyr, to enter paradise, to leave this life.
Of the twenty-nine different names for the garden,
they know all twenty-nine by heart.
For this part of the world began with a garden and
will end as an open ditch piled up with bodies.
Grant me Antigone’s strength to forbear
for the sun has come unstuck from a blue sky gone black,
stolen for effect, and the veiled moon stands in,
for the mourning women standing next to platters of rice,
signifying the historically sound end of forgetfulness,
returning our agency to mourn
the collaborations of the merchant capitalist class
with the unlistening, ahistorical God.
If only Gandhi’s spinning wheel had spun
a million yards of cloth
we would have covered all our war dead.
And as for tents, we would have built
cities upon cities of tents to keep the rain out
for all our refugees. And then and only then
would we have mourned our war dead,
mourned our war dead.