Published but Uncollected: “Sara’s Eyes”

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The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

Somewhere I know I still have the photograph, clipped from a New York Times print edition all those years ago, the years we were bombing men, women, and children in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. For a while, it was pinned to the cork bulletin board above my writing desk in our house in the woods outside Corvallis, Oregon. The photograph possessed me; I looked at it day after day. The caption told so little about this pregnant refugee woman who already had eight kids under her care. It was as if it was somehow up to me to attempt to tell her story—to imagine who she was, where she was going, where she might have ended up, if she and her children even survived with such grievous odds against them. Finally one rainy Coast Range down, I started to write.

“Sara’s Eyes” won first place in the Free Verse Category of the Oregon Poetry Association’s Fall 2008 content. It was later published in their print anthology, Verseweavers, in 2009.

Sara’s Eyes

From the photograph, it’s impossible to tell
whether she is Afghan or an ex-pat worker
who fell for a mujahideen. The caption reveals
her name, Sara Ashe, and her age, 30,
and that, pregnant, she made her way to Maslakh,
a refugee camp on the site of a former slaughterhouse
where now two of her eight children vomit blood.

What I remember about the slaughterhouse
across the river in Breslau was the cold.
How you opened the door and wide ribbons would wrap
like gauze around your head and how hanging cattle
torsos were lowered on pulleys canting from the ceiling.
And the smell, it must have been blood,
how it always made me gag.

There are mud huts and tents at Maslakh,
plastic toilets under a tarp secured with poles
whittled from the last stand of pistachio on the Herat plain.
Temperatures edge below zero most nights.
Sara’s hand touches her chin and her eyes,
framed by her hijab, appear pale. They must be blue
to be ringed so visibly in a newsprint photo.
A bull’s-eye, dead center of each iris.

The public domain painting of pistachio trees is by Hoca Ali Rıza.

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