When I awake, I am a beggar of the world

“Landai belong to women,” Safia Siddiqi, a renowned Pashtun poet and former Afghan parliamentarian, said. “In Afghanistan, poetry is the women’s movement from the inside.”

“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”

On this last day of National Poetry Month, a testament to the power of verse from the women of Afghanistan. The following couplets are called landays (or landai), an oral and often anonymous song, each with 22 syllables, created by and for the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Whether sung to the beat of a hand drum in a rural village centuries ago or whispered furtively into a phone hotline run by Mirman Baheer (Afghan’s largest women literary society), each landay is a stunning reflection of a layered life–a life in which singing and writing these poems does not come without grave risks.

As I wrap up my month of daily posts, I beseech you to read this article from the New York Times, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetryand explore more landays online from this beautiful issue of Poetry magazine. Thank you for following along for another 30 days of verse.

Members of Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society

If you couldn’t love me from the start,
then why did you awake my sleeping heart?

_

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

_

May God make you into a riverbank flower
so I may smell you when I go to gather water.

_

You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.

_

Today I spilled spinach on the floor.
Now the old goat stands in the corner, swinging a two-by-four.

_

O darling, you’re American in my eyes.
You are guilty; I apologize.
_

In my dream, I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.

Translated and presented by Eliza Griswold in
I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan

Celebrate “Poem in Your Pocket” Day Tomorrow!

To all my lovely readers, friends, and random stumblers-upon,

Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?

How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day? Please join me tomorrow, Thursday April 30th, in celebrating one of my favorite not-actual-but-should-be-official holidays, Poem in Your Pocket Day.

The “rules” of celebrating this day, which falls on the last day of National Poetry Month this year, are pretty simple. Put a poem in your pocket. You got that part already. Now you can’t just let it fester there all day. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to somebody before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I did many years ago, and plaster them all over your dorm walls. Disrupt the ritual of people’s days with beautiful words.

And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poems you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.*

(* This is the same text I’ve used the past few years. Apologies for taking this blogging shortcut, but I figured there was no point reinventing the wheel on this!)

The night is your cottage industry now

The great Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) gifted this paper-filled world with beautiful, crushing words.

“Stationery”

The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
the day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.

Write to me.