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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to

This poem is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

Four Poems Parwana Fayyaz
A Letter to Flower and Crown

In the middle of the night,
I write a letter to Bibi Gul and Taj Begum imagining their daytrip.
Measuring the hours with the gesture of the sun,
they now cross the muddy valleys –

with a hope that someone will help on the other side,
offering them shelter to rest for the night.
I first heard the story about the women fleeing
and losing their ways in crossing the valleys –

to an end uninvited.
The reason for their flight remains a mystery,
and never to be remembered again.
The remaining people call their flight

an escape out of the village
in search of some distant land,
abhorrence, translates the word on the tip of the tongue.
Among those women were my two

great aunts, Bibi Gul Lady Flower and Taj Begum Madam Crown –
whom I did not know until one day I heard
my grandfather Chaman Grass curses them under his breath
‘oh the creators of this twirling restless pain under my rib-bones… Jankan Jankan

In his soulless echoes,
he named them Siya Ru the dishonored.
His pain grew deeper after his sisters were captured mid-way to the valleys
and were brought back and scorned by a hundred village men.

Later those women were sealed in the city-prison for disloyalty.
Women without men became pregnant in the prison –
giving birth to illicit children.
No names. No stories.

No past to be remembered.
Their children grew into complete humans,
scorning themselves for their anonymous fathers
and dishonoured mothers, who remained unknown to us.

I know they prepared for their losses –
fading in like echoes deep into the twirling valleys,
low heads and tired fingers to object.
To the lost women,

the village-men may never recall their return,
or may never tell the truth about
their lives in the harshness of the village-life,
so ready to chase away the white wolves of winters.

Here I measure time in the motion of my feet
crossing the oceans, to write their names,
and to find the knot that binds me to Flower and Crown’s souls –
to give them names so they can rest for the night on their next escape.

Grandma’s Old Love Story

        On dinner sofra, girls are grapes
        boys are pomegranates

        I remember when I was a loving wife
        your grandfather was as handsome as Joseph
        I dream of him –
        he wears his white shirt – young as the new apple blossoms

        he calls for me
        I am outside, the glow of the morning breezes –
        I pick the last fresh tomatoes from the garden. I hear him calling me
        I run toward him and see his handsome face…

A break in the conversation –

        What was I saying
        It was a beautiful thought

        I felt I was drinking taza water –
        from the well near the apricot tree
        and felt my young lips kissing the air around the edges of the glass
        What was that thing I was telling you

    She remains silent for a longer time –
    reflecting what
    she had in mind that made her feel young again.
    I dare not remind her.

Rain stops dripping now,

    summer dryness enters the room,
    and thirst overwhelms her.

    She wants to go to the well to drink taza water –
    with her weak knees, she pushes herself and crawls toward the stairs.
        Then I must go to the farms,
    She now reaches the stairs.

    The well was not there, I said.
    ‘It was in the grand house of yours,
    and we are not there anymore.’
    The well. The husband. The young time. The dreams.

The tomatoes. And her thirst is forty years in the past.

    Her mouth is now half-open,
    the imprints of her age point around her toothless mouth.

    She is trying very hard to weep.
        But he calls for me
        I’m outside, I’m beautiful
        the glow of the morning breezes

        and I pick the last fresh tomatoes from the garden
        I hear him calling me
        I run toward him and only see his handsome face…
    she says it over and over,

until the sunset when everyone goes to sleep
and dreams bring him to her.

The City-Route

In 2005, we were one of the million Afghan refugee families returning from Pakistan and moving toward our city, Kabul, with a million hopes and dreams in our heads. Seven children with our mother and father, we packed the things we desperately needed and left our lodgings in Quetta, Pakistan. We took the three days’ journey over the mountains weathered in echoes of horror and holiness. We envisioned our return and tried to describe it with words and textures, joy and pain. In our minds, it was the city-route of our dreams and it always ended with us reaching a line of turquoise water running through the heart of Kabul – the Kabul River. That’s what it was once, at least it had been turquoise in my parents’ stories.

Until we reached the river. It had turned into a ghostly opaque line of no water, no color, and the shore was nothing but dirt and opium extracts.

Day 1

At the start of our journey,
the far-away mountains were coated in dust, naked and exposed.
The route toward Kabul was through Khaybar Pass and Zabul
where we stayed for our longest rest period.

We ate some dried cooked chicken legs, the skin
tasted like dry sand in the faraway hills.
Some strange looking travelers,  
gave us boiled eggs and fresh cucumbers.

On the way, among the valleys and trucks,
the men wore black and hid their faces,
except their eyes, searching to see.
Their women and children hid in the back of the truck, not able to see.

Covered in black, we spent the night in a motel,
where every corner smelled of opium,
gunpowder, sweat, and women.
Scarier than a living hell was that place.

Outside was dark as the pit of an unending tunnel –
we dared not to look up for the stars,
they would bleed
like we did inside with our open eyes.

Day 2

We were leaving for the city-route
in four hours.
Father didn’t sleep the entire journey,
something he usually did so easily.

Our truck paved over the dusty ground –
the roads became wider toward noon,
pure beauty was being born in yellow clay
and the far away lonely trees were hazing under the dust-land.

On the way, among the valleys and trucks,
the men wore charcoal-black
and hid their faces, except their eyes,
searching to see.

We stayed the night in Qalat,
the hotel served plain rice and fresh naan bread.
The uninvited ants circled our table in perfect order, I counted
the large red ones – I encounter them still in dreams.

We drove toward Kabul with nowhere in between,
until the next day’s sun started to rise above the city-route.
The glamourous morning-wind rose
and carried the unwanted dust, circling around the mulberry trees.

Day 3

We were finally feeling a little joy,
Kabul – here we come!
Until we came on an abandoned car
in the middle of an open road,

with four wide-open doors.
Six fat dead men in white had been dragged around.
Blood on their faces, drying blood on their robes
Blood on the route.

We had to see them, so we saw them nakedly.
We felt a gripping silence in our throats,
shaking in our hands,
and weakness in our toes.

The driver was clever enough
to lose nothing to the scene.
He took a careful turn, and passed by the car-scene.
Until we found the source of the rising-sun

larger than the car lost to sight.
In the not-so-far distance a majestic chain of mountains
appeared among the wastelands – filled with snow
and the feelings of coming home emerged in Paghman Mountains.

Day 4

The high mountains appeared like signposts,
their clustered rocks coated in snow
reaching for the skies.
Far away, behind the mountains the city awaited us.

With silence and reawakening memories
with welling tears and throbbing pain in our backs and feet –
we arrived to the city of Kabul.
That’s what it became then. Our city.

On the streets, in the midst of the fruit-carts and trucks,
the men wore grey turbans,
their faces intense, tanned – their eyes
brighter than the sun, searching to see.

We ate kidney beans for our late lunch
at my grandparents’ home
and saw the news about Shaima Rezayee
shot dead in her house in Kabul.

With the afternoon sun, my uncle drove us in his taxi
to a war-torn house in the north.
Mother made curtains, father bought candles,
I cooked steamed rice for dinner.

That night we looked at the stars –
indefinitely shinning,
all different sizes, from all corners,
the night-sky filled our stomach.

Now for ten years I visit Kabul
every May and June.
I sleep facing the moon toward the south, where the prayer-mat is folded,
exhaustion is in the air.

And toward the end of my journey
the city becomes involuntarily
and dangerously romantic.
That’s when I leave – in the middle of a dusty day.

End of the Winter


That winter ended on a Friday.
Down the hills,
the mud slid, opening little holes
to keep the water warm within,
and for the spring lilies to grow in colors.

I first encountered the little green surfaces
holding the water
like mountains holding the glaciers,
when I escaped my cousins’ bullying,
and hid behind the bushes.

I told my mother about the clover I found,
she asked me to look for a clover leaf with four open lobes,
I never found one.
Until I was twenty-five, and I first encountered one
on a California hill.


The next winter also ended on a Friday.
Down the hills,
in the little opened mud holes
instead of the warm water
the spring lilies grew yellow among the rocks.

I had found and counted
the shedding skins of the snakes –
folded and unfolded on the drying ground.
Ivory, Shiny and Fragile,
like the grown-ups’ long nails.

I pulled them gently into a corner
and lined stones around them,
so that the snakes would leave us in peace
in case they came to search for,
and wished to re-enter their dead remains.

Their countless discarded skins
cloistered near the hollowing stream
that always scared me;
it ran through the heart of our village
and nourished the white wolves in other villages.


The last winter also ended on a Friday.
Down the hills,
in the little opened mud holes
instead of the warm water –
solid rocks grew in number.

The countless dark marbles rock around the stream
hosted creatures from the crawling snakes
to the howling wolves.
Yet what amazed me most was
my young cousins swimming in the running stream.

They took off their dresses
and with their complete naked bodies
jumped into the cold-warming water.
I waited for them above the rocks,
and saw them crawling under the rocks

and disappeared in search of other village streams,
where the slippery surface of the marble
felt warmer.
I sat cross-legged waiting for a better view
of the streams streams running between the hills

and the uncountable sheep grazing under the rays.
My cousins never returned in the water,
like the snakes – they appeared among the rocks,
naked and exposed to the sun,
in search of their new skins, happy and satisfied.

This poem is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
Further Reading: - Parwana Fayyaz More Poems by... (1)
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