You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.
This Poetry Sunday, we at Women’s Voices are going to recommend some prose—specifically, Eliza Griswold’s Poetry Magazine article featuring the secret poetry of Afghan women. These two-line verses (folk couplets, or “landays”), written in strict meter, are astonishing in their fierceness, boldness, earthiness, and lyricism.
I’ll make a tattoo from my lover’s blood
and shame every rose in the green garden.
Is there not one man here brave enough to see
how my untouched thighs burn the trousers off me?
Slide your hand inside my bra.
Stroke a red and ripening pomegranate of Kandahar.
Yes, these bold poems are the verses Afghan women have been singing and chanting for centuries. They are careful to do so in private: Both reciting love poems and singing itself are so dangerous that a women could be beaten, or even killed, if caught doing so.
Some landays have been modified over the years—for instance, the suitor in the heated verse above was originally urged to slide his hand up the poet’s sleeve, not inside her bra.
And some landays are very new:
How much simpler can love be?
Let’s get engaged now. Text me.
Landays—born of women’s forced illiteracy as well as incarceration in the home and presumed submission—are raw, direct, and searing. And, unfortunately, they are forbidden. As we approach our Independence Day, they can serve as a reminder of our freedom of expression and our need to find ways to help others to theirs.
Griswold’s Poetry Magazine piece is a treasure-trove of these arresting landays; they are accompanied by evocative prose that explains the cultural context, as well as Seamus Murphy’s photographs of Afghan life.