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Afghan Weave

March 6, 2012

It’s snowing wool in Shiberghan
a walnut brown-cloud billow;
I knot and tap, retie then cut,
rugdust-coated shadow.

semi-darkening air
semi-bowed my back
finger-chained to this wood-frame loom .

It’s an endless twist in Shiberghan
saffron and madder hues,
I knot and tap, retie then cut,
lore ingrained like a bruise.

It’s a dimming dance in Shiberghan
indigo steeps my noons,
I knot and tap, retie then cut,
fingers, ten stiff tattoos.

My dowry’s weighed in Shiberghan
by deftness, mother-taught,
I knot and tap, retie then cut,
pattern fixed in strangling warp.

It’s a new-old song in Shiberghan
tribal heirlooms seal my room.

semi-darkening air
semi-bowed my back
finger-chained to this wood-frame loom.


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  1. Becky, I just adore this poem for many reasons. I love the flow of it, the ballad feel, and the way you’ve managed to offer us this heartbreaking story in such a beautiful way. Hope you’re enjoying the Litfest!

    • Thank you Emma… the Litfest is in full swing and I wanted to post this one as its inspiration sprang from one of the Festival Reading Group’s book choices: ‘Dear Zari’ by Zarghuna Kargar. Heart-rending real stories from women in Afghanistan. I’ll be meeting her later today..

  2. great flow- and so descriptive. reminds me of a place i visited in morrocco where they were weaving carpets. In your words i could smell the dust- the saffron colours. But then the repetiveness, the back breaking work- relentless and over and over again- your poem got this across so cleverley. (p.s my OLN poem was inspired by my vist to dubai- what a place- bet the litefest is great!)

    • Thanks Stu.. great to hear your responses to the textures and smells in the piece. It was inspired by a book I’d read for the Litfest – Dear Zari by Zarghuna Kargar… festival was brilliant.. pics on my blog here. And yes.. Dubai certainly has its own flavours, so looking forward to reading your OLN piece!

  3. i def love the way this flows…i would imagine much like sitting there watching her at her art honestly…the dowry is and interesting cultural point as well…well done becky

    • Yes, there is a flow, while there is also a repetitive sameness. I think you’ve caught the complexity quite well.. she has value through the skill she is limited to. For some Afghan women it could mean a certain amount of much-sought independence, but for many, especially for very young girls, another form of slavery.

  4. There is such power in the lilt and flow of your words. I remember the children’s ‘school’ in Egypt where they made the ‘magic carpets’. If you looked at them from one angle they shimmered and moved, from another angle you could see the child labor thinly disguised (the schoolroom was a concrete block of space that was completely empty, they told us the students only needed to read, write, and learn basic math). The completely incomprehensible part was watching Westerners then buy carpets after the tour. It’s one thing to see someone wear clothing made in a sweatshop halfway across the world (out of ignorance) and another to see relatively aware consumers actively perpetuate a cycle.

    • Yes, it is often so complex. It might mean the difference between the family eating that day or not, while also perpetuating a kind of slavery. Like I said to Brian, it has a positive side occasionally in Afghanistan, but all too often it means childhoods and choice are stolen.

      Thanks, Anna.. very nice to have you back on the trail..

  5. hedgewitch permalink

    Can’t tell you how much I liked this, becky–that refrain line is just perfect, making the poem a weave, making the weaver come alive…and the end seems like the last threads, dangling a bit, but too intrinsic to ever unravel. Fine poem.

    • Thanks very much, Joy. This was a style and form that pretty much demanded its expression.. it refused to be free verse. Happy to hear the weave is appropriate.

  6. Shawna permalink

    I especially love this stanza, Becky:

    “It’s a dimming dance in Shiberghan
    indigo steeps my noons,
    I knot and tap, retie then cut,
    fingers, ten stiff tattoos.”

  7. I love this piece–the repetative text–the warp and woof of the loom–just beautifully written.

  8. This is very well done. Repetition so often falls flat but it works well here. Lovely images and unusual word combinations that are perfect. Have to visit Shiberghan! 🙂

    • Yes, I know what you mean about repetition, but it seemed apt here. Thanks a lot for reading and leaving your thoughts..

  9. richie richness – oh E – so much flavour flave – good enough to eat 🙂

  10. You weaved the weave with your verse, very nicely done, great flow. The repetition just added to the affect of it.

  11. nice progression… like the repetitiveness… it gave sound to your piece

  12. What a way with words, phrasing and imaging you have. I really enjoyed my visit here. Loved your semi lines and use of repetition. Nice to meet you.

  13. What a great alternate inroad into the Afghan story, weaving a poem in style of the traditional loom — tradition is made of stern motions as this, for better and worse, taking both comfort in the rigor of the known as well as being bound by it. Women in Afghan society have a difficult place — I heard a story about how badly women are treated as members of the Afghan police. Hard for us to conceive the limitation, but I’ll bet some feel a certain freedom in it, as one finds deep modes of expression within a tightly-written poem (as you do here). Did you move recently to Dubai? Seems like the experience would be rich in contrast between the modern and the traditional — a vitality as much as a brimming conflict. – Brendan

  14. Thanks, Brendan. Yes, this piece actually emerged from a collection of real Afghan women’s stories I’ve been reviewing (‘Dear Zari’). I wanted to capture the rigidity of the situation for some girls and omen..even while being valued for their skills, they are restricted to it and have no voice to choose otherwise.

    As for Dubai.. not unless you call 20 year recent.. lol.. It is full of contradictions, but also exciting opportunities.

  15. this is a gorgeous capture of her..a woman lost in her work…maybe sometimes she loves it, sometimes she hates it but the song keeps whispering in her ear….love it becky

    • I hope I haven’t suggested she loves her work.. she is certainly absorbed in it and has no other choices in life. Thanks for reading Claudia.

  16. There’s so much pain and routine that goes into beautiful handicrafts. You uhave captured so much of the drudgery as well as the life situation of the weaver so goreously imagined. I think this expands consciousness since it is always important to remember where and how the artifacts we use to live our lives were made. This is wonderful.

    • Thanks so much for your comments – yes, drudgery and little chance of escape. I was also told that the hand-weaving of Harris tweed (in Scotland) is similarly back-breaking.. that was really interesting to me.

  17. A great capture, lovely.

  18. Thanks Ayala.. great to see you again.

  19. The texture here (in both senses) is stunning. ‘Well-crafted’ would be an understatement

  20. Becky, this is a great one. I will get back to it tonight, for now I’d like to say you have to admire people who can do what you don’t or cannot do.

  21. I like this piece because it is like a mixture of what is real and what could be theatrical, I mean I don’t doubt that this is real but you could imagine watching this as a play. The refrains come in, the slight but meaningful changes to the wording while retaining that meter. It’s kind of like someone lifting their head to the heavens then breaking to execute the task, then lifting their head to the heavens. Room/wood frame loom. The hoping heart is brought down until it must despair, the act is some little distraction and the whole thing sets itself again. Sonically it’s mesmerizing and evocative. I love this piece.

    • Yes, I do see what you mean about how the subject has been presented. This came from a book I was reading – a collection of real Afghan women’s stories collected for Afghan Women’s hour. So the details of the woman’s experience are real and I’m glad if I’ve been able to transfer some of her emotional life via this poem to the reader. The ballad format presented itself and wouldn’t let up. I gave in.. 🙂

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