a poem is a sword

              Mirman Baheer

               Society of Female Poets, Afghanistan

You won’t allow me to go to school. 
I won’t become a doctor. 
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

Lima, age 15, Kabul


so many words & none

will come.  l'esquisse d'un sonnet

he thinks.  sidle in

because there is, this day,

no other offering to make.

offrian, then, to present

in worship, which is to stake

the sacred on the indulgent

as though love

were mere idyll,

plaything of

dense comfort, liminal —

so many words & none

will come?


sketch.  skedios

he thinks, esquisse

the offspring of extemporaneous

& temporary.  voice

at his behest:

the calories of narcissism,

words as heedless waste.

the schism

as harsh as it is vast,

voids diction

cannot leverage, the trust

undone.  & his fiction:

that the poem can,

in fact, transcend —


my pains grow as my life dwindles,

i will die with a heart full of hope.

Mirman Baheer they call

themselves.  scope

of a passion he cannot

seize.  blade drawn

across breast, breast hot

with yes, with blood.  bourne

of portent & despair.

silence the ageless breath

of the feminine.  to share,

to dread.  death

as crucible — gravity —

consort to clarity.


15 November 2008.  Kabul.

day nearing,

the latitudes of harm dull

with cold.  girls, the clearing

around the school, city

waking from summer & war.

quiet camaraderie

steps from the door.

the razorwire of sin.

then motorcycles, laughter,

men in keffiyeh, waterguns

retasked.  acid.  then after —

so many words & none.



they say the skin

melts, like syrup

on a soft spring

day.  eyes drop,

chin becomes chest.

15 November.  sixteen

on their way to vest

a real that hides between

audacity & suicide.

wise woman.

heretic who can read.

not quite human.

so many words & none

will come.


silence that bleeds across

months.  city

waking into winter & loss.

you can be

woman or you can

be human.  either way you will

learn.  & that moment when

the only thought is unthinkable —

father who cradles

the wasteland of his daughter's face —

posterity that angles

into emptiness —

you will return to school

even if it kills you —


my child, this is bigger than us.

his, too, a vein of

brutality.  sacrifice,

sanctity, unschismed love,

heart of one man

who has breathed such venom

there is no loss that can

still unman him.

heart of one man

who will bring the flame

upon himself.  posterity unseen

that is god's truest name.

the human

glory.  the damage done.


night a long

starless test.

paradox the mother tongue

of the dispossessed:

despair, heart, daughter

daring the veil

that has blinded her mirror.

lifting her single eye, frail

as that first blink

when light described her slide

into this world.  she thinks:

none will have me, so I

will have myself.  mortal

suffrage.  savage hymnal.


scratching in the wreckage.

frail, furtive.

sacred, as in bondage.

to live

in the shadow of life.

to never know the body

of mother, wife.

stark prosody

of flesh that will

never find union.

the clandestine cell call.

verse shared.  dread.  offrian.

first there is the word.

then the poem becomes a sword.


i shout but you don't

answer.  one day you'll

look for me but i'll be gone.

sisters of the golden needle,

canticles of sin, kohl

that fires your eyes.

the toll

exacted: lies

that will birth lines.

lines that will birth

lives.  lives that will twine

silence.  earth

waking, aflame.

the words that came.