Stars and blossoming fruit-trees: utter permanence and extreme fragility give an equal sense of eternity.—Simone Weil
My soul sees a man with a question:
Why did you banish me? I didn’t, I respond.
A lotus, his face surfaces in a pond. The man says:
Why did you fill me with mortar? This isa man I once loved.
The soul: A famine of love, my darling.
The body says: I have no honey to give. The soul says: Sweetness is the currency of love.
This is the lightin your dream.
The body says: I am not young much longer. The soul says: You are neither young nor old. [End Page 135]
What about the silence of a soft black lily?
It blooms and blooms unknown words.
The body sees: Perhaps they’ll burn me, too. The soul says: I heard a girl in the night. The body sighs: Only a dream.
I touched the wall where a girl wept at eleven, twelve
one o’clock fishing cigarettes out of her mother’s purse
dropping each one a blanched star under the stairs.
My body is naphthalene a noxious vapor
while the soul waits to open a window onto black moonlight.
Water-stained ceiling flowers nervously, petal
as if my room is moth-paper, one giant wing of my life.
I heard a girl in the night.
Soul: Who shows love to this child? Body: Perhaps they will burn me. Soul: Who will bear witness?
The flesh is as grass, says the soul while the self says, the soul burns with my daughter in eternity.
The body cries, I live. Hums the soul, I love. [End Page 136]
Prayer for Afghan Women
to Freshta of the Afghan Women Writers’ Project
Afghan women sip green tea. This is kahava, loose leaves in cardamom milk warmed over fire as we sing a landay.
With rolling pins, we bruise pods speaking of little dark seeds. Kahava is boiled to bitterness with rock-sugar on our tongues.
We drink after a long day, a meal of nuts or raisins, torn cumin bread. We pour milk-tea in the space of a girl who dreams she cannot walk, sees a leg
cut without explanation, what she calls a bloody blast in our shared language. Offering tea, we pour the milk of flesh and bone hoping she’ll walk again.
Girl in the eyes women who visit a clinic, she lies in a zone half wire, half omen: how is war about women
while others wail: this is not a war. This is a war. We turn the pages of a book, none of the words yet written.
At night, voices of women on a radio in my kitchen: We are pods bruised for tea. We are eyes poured out in milk
and blood for the dogs of war. Our school is a cave of refuge translated, please tune in for survival, not insurgency. [End Page 137]
Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Ardor (Tupelo, 2008), In Medias Res (Sarabande, 2004), and a chapbook, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe, 2002). Her books have been honored by the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America (chosen by Cole Swensen) and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry (selected by Heather McHugh). The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she chairs the English Department at a faith-based college in Southern California, where she is also a novice harpist. [email@example.com]