He Sends Me the List of the Fourteen Dead

He sends me the list of the fourteen dead

I already have the pictures
including the ones where the bodies
are laid in a row with their heads covered

This is not their first disaster

but it might be the first
where the indifference
is so acutely felt

And the world is waiting for atrocities
because this is what they sacrificed for and because
it’s the trade for being abandoned:

the obligation
to now crash and burn

And there are whiffs of twenty years ago
how uncertainty ran through my body then too

And almost everyone I meet is pawing with their opinions
what is personal to me, almost private

I no longer have the patience of a diplomat

And where I’m sitting — in this bistro that
used to be an army barracks — a woman
tries to discipline her new dog

a pale wide-grinned retriever
intent on ignoring her

Stop it, stop it, stop it — she tells him
with barely a breath in between
the leash is short and taut
stop it, stop it

I watch as I slowly open to the world
my hand still on my phone



Click here to read Martine van Bijlert on the origin of the poem.

Image: by Amber Clay on Pixabay, licensed under CC.2.0

Martine van Bijlert:
The collapse of Afghanistan’s government in August 2021 shook my world. My poetry became stark, word shards with no lyricism. I still wrote, but captured little. Here I was, sitting in the sun, drinking coffee, trying to remind my body of where it was. I had friends in hiding and friends who had just landed in a new country. Most of them trying to recapture a kind of normalcy.

My phone vibrated with the updated pictures and names of the men who had been killed in Daikundi, a few days earlier. Pictures of the bodies covered in sheets and shawls. Pictures of the men while still alive, posing in front of a tree or in the green spring grass. This wasn’t my first regime change upheaval, but it had never been this close.

I cannot tell how the poem reads for someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to love a country that’s hit so hard and judged so harshly. I don’t know how uncomfortable it is for a reader to have fourteen dead laid out next to a grinning retriever. But it’s uncomfortable for everybody else. Close to unbearable.

Martine van Bijlert
Latest posts by Martine van Bijlert (see all)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.