Aria Aber

Afghan officials say they have uncovered a mass grave in an underground prison on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, which dates from the Soviet era.
—BBC News, 2007

Lately I’ve been moved by how
the skeletons were found: skulls with cloth
around the eyes, wrist bones tied by rope—
a miracle that fabric (what color
was it, what material?) has touched,
even witnessed, the suffering of those
two thousand men, who stood naked
with their eyes bound and were raped before
they were shot. Among them we suspect
lie my great-grandfather’s
and my mother’s youngest brother’s
remains. What is it with the disappeared
that survival, this dumb extravagance, insults us
so? I felt nothing when I slayed the Hajis,
my student, an ex-Marine, wrote.
In fact, those barbarians fell easy, like buildings
in Mazar-e-Sharif. What could I have
said? I praised the urgency of subject,
her apt simile. To fight, you understand,
was aimless. I’ve been primed for this,
for disappearance, for all my life. I dreamt
of my student that night, her voice muscling
the soft framework of memory, whistling
Leiche, Leiche, Leiche. Dearest, I wonder why
in English the body is both dead
and alive, but I know the blight of grief
has a heart and thus will love, and learn, and thusly
learn to hate—I want to believe that he, too,
settled porous into the light. He was twenty-one
when they took him in for questioning.
My uncle, I mean. Do not return, my mother
shouts from her sleep. Do not
return. His eyes were green.

Aria Aber was raised in Germany, where she was born to Afghan refugees. Her debut, Hard Damage, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.
Originally published:
January 1, 2020


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