On My Mind: 06.17.13

by Rachael on June 17, 2013

Mondays at The Variegated Life: favorite links. This week, just two. They are more than enough.

From Beloved on the Earth, by Rachel Turiel at 6512 and Growing:

Mornings were like waking up in the five-star hotel: bird-song and freedom. No children to feed, no chickens to let out, no carrot seeds to water, no letters to the editor in the local paper to fume over, no existential path-choices to angst about, no identity to uphold. Upon waking, I’d promptly go back to sleep. I’d promptly go back to sleep. I just had to write that again because I didn’t even know my Mama-body could do that. The sun crept up meadows and over fallen trees and I’d doze a little, read a little and finally shimmy out of my sleeping bag to sit by a fire and sip tea.

Everything became very simple, very ordinary. After dinner, I’d fold up my stove and pop it back in its pouch. Kitchen cleaned. In the mornings, I’d get a little giddy with gratitude over finding my toothbrush, ready to perform its important service. You, again! When I found the perfect tree configuration to set up my tarp, it was like receiving a biblical sign that everything was going to be all right. The flavors of happiness began to look different, less about accomplishments and acquisitions, and more like the relief of pulling boots off at the end of the day.

From the opening of Landays: Poetry of Afghan Women, collected by Eliza Griswold and published with photographs by Seamus Murphy in this month’s issue of Poetry magazine, which you can read in its entirety online:

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn’t allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she’d be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. Poetry, which she learned from other women and on the radio, became her only form of education.

In Afghan culture, poetry is revered, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet — a landay — an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.

A landay has only a few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. Within these five main tropes, the couplets express a collective fury, a lament, an earthy joke, a love of home, a longing for the end of separation, a call to arms, all of which frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.

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