by NELLIE WONG [written after she saw the movie “Kandahar”]


My eyes follow them
Women in Burqas of gold, cream, blue,
Burgundy, women unseen, traveling
to a wedding party to somewhere
In Kandahar
How do I know that they are women
Except that only women wear Burqas,
Covered from head to foot with squares
Of opening, netted or crocheted,
Framing their eyes
And even in their embroidered beauty
The intricate stitching of the covers
Over their heads do not distract

My eyes follow them
Children in cotton in colors of birds
Their eyes fixed on the unseen viewer,
Their eyes follow the camera
Aimed at their foreheads, throats
The girls are not covered up
Like their grandmothers, mothers, aunts
Until one day as they approach
Womanhood, then too they would wear
Burqas, then too, they will remain
Invisible and still my eyes follow them

A woman hands a lipstick to her sister
Who runs a slash of berry red across
Her unseen lips because in their Burqas,
To these watching eyes
Beauty blossoms, beauty blossoms
In secret salons, in homes, where women
Carry out rituals, who teach
Girl children to read Arabic
Who resist the law handed down
By men demanding invisibility
As their right

My eyes follow them, the men hobbling
On one leg, their crutches become wings
As they rush in unison toward
A helicopter dropping prosthetics
Prosthetics in pairs floating
From parachutes, dropping
Onto the land, dry, barren
When one thump or hop
Could explode a landmine

My eyes follow the woman, a journalist
Named Nafas, in her Burqa
Disguised as the fourth wife
Of a man who rides with his family
Ostensibly to Kandahar
Nafas searches for her sister
Whose legs have been blown off
Left years ago in Kandahar
Who has threatened
To kill herself rather than live
Under control
Of the Taliban

My eyes follow them, the woman
Surrounded by her children
Whose hunger gnaws
At a sandwich made of grass
The father knows it’s only
A matter of time as winter descends
Over the land, as tons of wheat
Are hoarded by warlords
That death may be a gift
That death may be better
Than starving

These eyes absorb, penetrate
These eyes remember
The bound feet of my aunt
In Oakland’s Chinatown, this woman
Whose movement was restricted
From her girlhood in China
All the way to the United States
These eyes ferret the unknown
The hidden, the unseen faces,
Shapes of their jaws
Mouth, arms, bodies, legs
Of the women in Burqas
Whose passion for movement
Remains unknowable
Whose spirit thrives
At the thought of wheat
They could pound into flour
Who long for the sun
To find them unafraid
And daring, daring
To read the newspapers
Listen to the radio   watch television
Walk the streets   run the land
Dancing as women   as sisters
Beckoning in the heart of darkness
As the eyes split open
Their ankles glistening with truth

Nellie Wong
Copyright 2002 Nellie Wong



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