Lida Abdullah

Working Note

My writing process is in some sense the other side of the image-making impulse; a poem for me is a pulsing image literally and figuratively made of words.  Like a painter I will try to re-write the same image until I am satisfied with its capture in the words.  Sometimes when images return to me from a past that seems all the more uncanny, silent scenes from a life lived in Afghanistan, I try to transform them either into colors, words or simply sounds.  What remains of me then in the process?  Possibly how I/it feel(s) its/my powerlessness in the face of something that continues to slip.




The lights always flicker in the mosque. My feet are
cold this evening from the muddy streets and rain.
The inside of the mosque throbs with the shadows the
candles throw on the walls. The air is fragrant with
the smell of burning candles. With the smell of the
war outside.

My mother tells me to light a candle and make a wish.
What wish did I have at the age of 8? What kinds of
wishes do children have at that age? Now, I have many,
which drop in the spaces I leave behind.

Standing in the mosque then, I did not know that a
couple of years later I would become a refugee. I
had lost many things, small things, marking the
boundaries of my small universe. But how does one lose
a country, from where does it slip one’s grip?

The carpet in the mosque has a musky smell from the
foot traffic. There are folds that trip people here
and there. Light and dark play on the threadbare
carpet. I sit in a corner of the mosque away from the
worshippers and try to imagine things. I always day-
dreamed as a child for which I always got in trouble both in
school and at home. “Pay attention, look around you
so you can remember, focus.” There was so much to see.

Now I tell my mother I am glad I did not pay attention
all those years. It was better to daydream, to
imagine what it was that people were doing moving from
one place to another. I used to think that we were
all waiting for someone or something.

If I remembered everything,
I would probably not be able
to continue living these screams.
I imagined a dead body lying across
the floor of the mosque and the
worshippers sitting around it
praying for its soul.
Praying for a missing body.

I can hear the whispering sounds of the worshippers
reciting from the Quran. Returning home, my mother
places the beautifully bound copy of the Quran
somewhere where everyone can see. It’s better that
way, she says. Everyone always wore a black veil.
Or was it because of the funerals. It’s hard to tell
what they are saying from where I am. Underneath
the translucent veil, I can see their glowing faces only
here and there criss-crossed with the path of
kohl-ed tears.


Blink as though lashes heavy with tears,   

                         (webbed sunless horizons)

Ropes rubbing against one other as if

                         (sound of entangled bodies)

They are one, in the presence of the cube.
Everything is equidistant
from here. Same too.

looking into distances she has yet to travel.

“Why can’t I?”
Why can’t I stop.
Why can’t the blinking
Stop this?
eclipse did they say was it
the cause or what
did this mean
“Take one word at a time from your mouth,”
always remembering to replace it
when they asked
“Tell us what happened
We have to learn sadness
what was its story you said?”

Yesterday, we covered the speckled
walls without eyes—black-green-blue-brown—
red too—
when swollen with wind
we chewed them until
our mouths were sour with the memory’s husks.

Now, we dance ecstatically
to the music
our fingers make as
we cover the cracks
as the wind rages.

Here, I’ll peel the smile
from my lips for your

“Stop blinking?”
I want to remain awake, someone blinking for me.
Blink slowly,
missing the good parts of the film.

Bio: Lida Abdullah received her MFA (Studio Art) in June 2000 from the University of California at Irvine.  She has produced work in many media—video, film, photography, performance and installation—and has shown both in Los Angeles and abroad.  She was born in Kabul, Afghanistan 1973, and lived in Germany and India as a refugee before coming to the US.

Afghan Writing Feature

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