“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 Poetry, and explore more landays online from this beautiful issue of Poetry magazine. Thank you for following along for another 30 days of verse.
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