Walnuts in Nangarhar

That time
in Aagam when father, a child then, picked
fresh walnuts with the mountain girls;
they showed him the fleshy green
skin over shell & nut he rubbed
on his lips & cheeks, giggling.

The girls circled around him, clapped
in unison & teased. In a hand mirror,
he saw himself stained pink,
a delicious trick that kept
its color a full week—

That time
so long ago, in the
season of walnuts.

Related Poems

From the Country Notebooks

after Brigit Pegeen Kelly


Once upon a time, my father was offered a shovel
and ten minutes alone with the prized stallion—Just don’t
kill him.    Once upon a time, I asked about the apple-
knotted scar on my father’s back shoulder, as he dressed
for work: That’s from when Sammy tried to kill me.
Remember?    Once upon a time, my father accepted a shovel
and the problem of answering violence without loosing
too much blood from Sammy’s chestnut body, nervous
in the stable.    Once upon a time, I watched my father dare
to ride Sammy, who had only known breeding—: things
went fine, until his muzzle grazed a live wire that sent him
bucking, first with and then without the weight of my father
perched on his saddled back. Every witness there
broke open into a song called laughter.    Once upon a time,
my father couldn’t trust himself to spill just the blood
owed, and so chose torture’s slow ember over a quick-
flamed revenge:—for one long week, Sammy submitted
to the pull of hunger, easing his desire through
the narrow stall bars for a mouthful of sweet oats,
and then the shovel’s handle came down like lightning
across his beautiful face. My father did this
twice each day, despite the wounded wonder delivered
upon both creatures.    Once, Sammy escaped
and it took a lifetime to corral again the full force
of that gallop—to gather back the spirit and grace
of that temporary, hot-hearted freedom.



My mother said I should not do it,
but all night I turned the horses loose.
The farmhouse slept, the coyotes hunted noisily.
I was a boy then, my chest its own field flowered by restlessness.
How many ropes to corral a herd?
I had none but a stubborn concern with steady hands
and the darkness of the summer wind which moved right through me
the way the coyotes moved through the woods with voices
that seemed to mourn the moonlit limits of this release
and those who had prayed for release before me.
I pulled each horse through the opened barn doors,
all night out into the pasture with little resistance, all night my hands
buried in manes as if I were descending into a new understanding,
all night my path a way toward recovery.
And then carrying its own kind of clemency, against
the tall forest of sharp pines, the morning came,
and inside me was the deep-pitched presence a howl builds
at the lonely center of its bawl, before the throat
remembers again that other sweet mercy, silence.
The light climbed into the pasture.
The coyotes were crying and then were not.
And the pasture was—I could see as I led
the last warm body to field—full of memory and motion.


Because the cathedral leaked yellow light

onto cobblestones like a slit carton of milk.

Because boxes of red wine emptied

down the throat’s swiveling street.

Because the music of my footsteps

like notes of ash.

Because he curved like a question mark

puncturing a flap of heaven.

Because litros tucked in brown paper bags,

two packs of Chesterfields a day, 

at the breakfast table, 

on the lip of a balcony.

Because I woke in a shrine   

of my own stickiness.

Because his lips were aperitif.

Because my father kissed his forehead 

outside the mosque,

the taste of rum and rose petals. 

Because oranges bulging in coat pockets.

Because the condom held against the light,

swirling cities of children we would never conceive.

Because it broke,

the cartography of longing pulsed onto soft thigh.

Because the long walk home chaperoned by stray dogs,

the drunk's grief of the Guadalquivir,

blue cough and jasmine rotting in my hair.

Because I passed out in the bar bathroom

and mistook the toilet for my mother's legs.

Because the shard of glass in the singer's throat.

Because he cried when he was happy.

Because the thief looked me in the eyes and didn't take the purse.

Because the petroglyphs of our hands wounded the white walls,

how we made the world small,

siphoning god's breath 

to sweeten the blood-flavored noon.

from Aednan [X]

Vass Valley. Fall 1920
(Aslat the dead)

You left me 
on the Swede’s farm

alone and wrapped
in my large kolt


I didn’t stay there


One fall and one winter
we cried together
Then you joined

the herd and
As for me I spread
my kolt into wings
and flew away

blood drained 
from my body and


I couldn’t stay

Where I had fallen
never to rise


Did you feel me Father

blowing across the sea

Didn’t you hear me

Among the sea birds
when you arrived 
with your summer-fattened


I was the lone
strand from the reindeer’s coat
gliding across the surface of the sea

in the bay by
the reindeer’s swimming spot


And the pretty hill
in the fall-summer sun

Where the herd 
had to find its own way
down the rocks

Until thick fog rolled in

And it was
impossible to see
the pitch of the slope


I was the forest 

around the great
forest way
in olden times


Where your lead reindeer
cleaned its horns

Did you feel it Mother
in your hand

that long while you spent
milking the tame cow
who then disappeared
among the trees


To search for lichen
and mushrooms and lick
urine from the ground


I was the weight
in the stone you brought
back from the coast

to place on 
my grave

One stone each summer

you carry home
to the winterland
Nila and you


Mother you caress
that scar on my
brother’s forehead
as though it were a
whisper from me


Because I once
threw a wooden log 
at him

that hit right there

Nila when I fell


You continued
to treat me
the same

as though I
hadn’t changed


The same old
slow smile
while my head quietly
wanted to roll back
into place

deep between my shoulders

Nila did you feel that
I was the movement
under the boat

in the mountain lake where
Mother and you
spread the nets


Did you catch
my gaze
in the eye of the storm


I stood on a branch
my legs were like 
When the wind bent
back the yellowing

I saw strange mountains

with roaring rivers


And I flew over
the boat and called
to you:

There will be rain
there will be rain