There was once. I remember. I think it must have been there. Just imagine.
I climbed your two vacuums and lost my breath. But I did not cry, seeing the women in the field balance pots on their wisdom bumps.
Malalai was taking me home. “There will be apple orchards,” she said. “And fighting,” laughed the driver, who was armed. I told him I was not scared, as we hemmed the narrow mountainside to the sound of something I could not name.
There is no explanation for it. No science or natural law. The story goes that if you take a single brick from this city, no scorpion will ever bite you. Father says, we kept ours with your mother’s gold.
Just stepping into the square, into the standing blue pool under the pulse of a thousand white wings, something happened. Something loosened, fell, or passed through me: a precision, a shudder, lightning, vivid as a heartbreak.
It’s true, I had a crush on the malang at the shrine, who marched in rags and tassels with a tail of children, calling, “Allah hu, Allah hu, Allah hu.” His hand never extended, but all of him untethered.
Better than a man: tarashak* on a hot a day.
We were three in the back in black scarves that were dusted white by the time we got there. And seeing the old hotel for the first time in 25 years, father, whose corners are always straight, confessed a drunken boyhood.
Please don’t tell anyone that we left work early that day and drove to the lake and ate kabobs and sour cherries and I lowered my scarf, being one with two beards and families peppered about and joy still in bad taste that I tried to be small, but there was the water just like that, wide and rare and like Florida, a clear sheet of possibility, of freedom and pleasure. And the whisper started, the itch spread, and grew and ballooned, and before I knew it—I leapt in—with everything on and with all abandon.
The difference between a poem and a lion is an alphabet. The difference between five poems and five lions is slight.
We walk to the hilltop that watches over the valley. We remove our shoes and continue to water his hands, now that he is under a green hat.
We creep past the stones marked white for mines. We kneel and spread out our picnic. An ant, a shoe, a rocket – all of it suddenly level.
* Tarashak is a homemade, flattened ice cream served with pistachios, almonds and rose water; specialty of Mazar-i-Sharif.
** In Farsi/Dari, Panjsher literally means “five (panj) lions (sher)”. Sher is also the word for “poem.”