In the Grip of Cold, Afghan Family Buries 8th Child–
News Item, Feb. 8, 2012
Inside the tent with my mother
the women are wailing:
my mother is crying dry tears,
the only tears she has now.
Only I have come outside—
I am what’s left:
this girl who stands watching
my father and uncles
prepare my little brother’s body
for burial. Neighbors brought us
hot water for the washing: we ourselves
had nothing left to burn.
Khan’s body is a white bundle of stillness
on a white sheet, his feet pointed
as though he’s on tiptoe,
his mouth a thin line,
like an old man who has made up his mind.
Last night all the paper and straw I’d collected
got used up brewing tea
to drink with our bread.
Khan was lucky: he could nurse, and find sleep
wrapped in his too-big sweater
and the fuzzy yellow blanket
one of the foreign ladies gave us.
But then he woke up and cried;
he struggled all night.
We listened to him cry, lying on the ground
together, all of us shivering,
sharing our blankets.
Mother tried to nurse him but he turned his head away
over and over. So she held him against her body
sang to quiet him. Then he was quiet.
Cold, you had taken him for yourself,
the way you took my brother Amir last winter
and the children from other families
whose bodies lie out there
in the snowfield behind the camp:
their headstones like fingers of so many hands
reaching out of darkness.
I am what’s left: all of my brothers gone—
three of them dead back in our village
before I knew them—just names now.
Then the twins, Jabir the strong one,
Sayid who never spoke—
dead of the Coughing Sickness.
That was before we left the mountains,
trekked many days to this camp outside the City.
On the way, Rafik, my brother-friend
who used to carry me on his back, got sick in his belly,
and died by the roadside.
They said we would be safe from the fighting here:
would be given clean water,
food, tents. Sometimes the foreigners come
bringing cooking oil, or charcoal, asking questions
and writing down what we say. Then they leave.
Cold, you have won the war
the soldiers can’t finish.
This family is finished.
I am Ferouza—my name means turquoise:
like my mother’s turquoise necklace
sold to the trader
In our village I would be old enough to be betrothed.
I am ready, Cold—soon I will be yours.
Now they are carrying the body out to the field,
the mullah is starting to chant.
No women are allowed
but I am only a shadow.
My father’s face is ice-hard, and icicles trail
from the corners of his beard.
Let him not hear me cough—he looks so scared
when he hears me coughing.
Cold, let him not know
that I am to be your bride.