Afghan Women Write Poetry Risking it All

I write poetry and invite young authors to write poetry in workshops I teach at schools. Finding the Words is the name of my program. It is amazing to give students a voice. A second grader wrote this poem:

Stars Gathering by Brad

My mom is like the stars above me

Tickling her feet

All of the stars are gathering up

Like a crowd of people

People whispering

Quietly thinking

It is their time

To leave their homes

Like a lightning bug flying away

The Afghan women have no voice. An article by Eliza Griswold, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry gives these statistics, “Of Afghanistan’s 15 million women, roughly 8 out of 10 live outside urban areas, where U.S. efforts to promote women’s rights have met with little success. Only 5 out of 100 graduate from high school, and most are married by age 16, 3 out of 4 in forced marriages.”

The Afghan women use poetry as a form of rebellion. “Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest women’s literary society, is a contemporary version of a Taliban-era literary network known as the Golden Needle. In Herat, women, pretending to sew, gathered to talk about literature. In Kabul, Mirman Baheer has no need for subterfuge. Its more than 100 members are drawn primarily from the Afghan elite: professors, parliamentarians, journalists and scholars. They travel on city buses to their Saturday meetings, their faces uncovered, wearing high-heeled boots and shearling coats.

But in the outlying provinces — Khost, Paktia, Maidan Wardak, Kunduz, Kandahar, Herat and Farah — where the society’s members number 300, Mirman Baheer functions largely in secret.” The group’s mission is to teach young women not just to write but also to speak aloud and with confidence. Young poets like Meena who call into the hot line, Amail told me, “are in a very dangerous position. They’re behind high walls, under the strong control of men.” Herat University’s celebrated young poet, Nadia Anjuman, died in 2005, after a severe beating by her husband. She was 25.”

This is one of the women’s poem:

You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

Because the women have no say in what goes on in their lives, they turn to poetry to express their feelings.Now that Afghan women are aware of their rights, they fight for them in their family,”Griswold said. “If they get their rights, that’s good. If they don’t, they kill themselves or get beaten up.”

In the United States, we can reach the stars. Use your voice to write, speak, and talk about the good life we have here. Find the words to shout out about injustice. Can we be as brave as the Afghan women and write?

In Memory

September 11, 2001 By Janie Reinart

Wicked hands
Choke off
Icy-cold fingers of anguish
Freeze our hearts
Numb our brains
Fiery hate-fueled ideals
Melt steel
And hope
Leveling lives in an instant
Leaving only
Like falling white paper
To cover the ground

Trembling hands
Sobs collapse silence
Reflecting replayed news
A nation
Brought to our knees
Can’t pray hard enough
Tears burn our eyes
Death stares back
Oh Lord hear our prayer

Holy hands
Amid the rubble
Holding sorrow
Too heavy to move
Finding the sacred
In the everyday
Flags unfurl
A call to arms
My son enlists
I can only pray

Weary hands
Funeral roses
For our beloved
Blessing life’s fragileness
Leaving only
Like falling white petals
To cover the hole
In our hearts
Longing for peace
We pray

Like Mother Like Son

Annie Fawley & Captain Darrell Fawley

I recently received a letter from Captain Darrell Fawley. His mom, Annie is the author of the story “Team Fawley” in Love You More Than You Know.  His words are poignant as he describes having a hard time making it through reading his Mom’s essay.

Captain Darell also thinks a volume of stories from soldiers going to war telling what it is like to leave their families behind would be important.  He writes, “Regardless, I want to thank you for recognizing the struggle that mothers go through. The message should be that they sacrifice so much and live in such uncertainty for something they never signed on for and yet they are steadfast because the bond between mother and child is so great.”Captain Darell says he knows his parents are proud of him and what he does. “I never lose sight of what they’ve done for me or would do for me.”

Besides running marathons like his mom, Captain Fawley also is a writer like his mom. This poem was written in the Spring of 2007 in Iraq.

The Families in the Dark

“Our families have it worse than us,”

a bright young soldier once said.

“They never know where we are,

If we’re alive or if we’re dead.

They cling to phone calls and letters,

That are all too often rare.

Our lives may be laden with danger,

But at least we know we’re still there.

And as the pitch invades the evening sky,

Uncertainty plays devilish tricks on their minds

And they worry a flowing well

Wishing they could fast forward time.

But when we hear the dawn’s prayer,

We know we made it through the night.

And no matter how many grains have fallen,

In the moment we know we’re all right.

We don’t know what it’s like,

To fear what the news will say.

We don’t stare at empty seats

During every meal of every day.

And when the Reaper is calling on us,

We’re trained in the way to the light.

But no one prepares the family

To deal with the dark nights.

So we may have to lug around the Beast

But knowledge is a powerful arm

Without it my kin cries at night

Because they don’t know I’m free from harm.”

Captain Darrell Fawley, we are proud of you and thank you for your service and your words. If any troops out there would like to write about their experience of leaving for war and leaving their families behind, drop me a note.  God bless you all for protecting us and serving our country.