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poetry Afghanistan: The Raped Girl

Ostriker's poem touches the heart of violence against women in a patriarchal culture.

Because the mullah raped her, she cannot be allowed to live
Her brothers will kill her, it is a question of honor
She is ten years of age and does not yet menstruate
But bleeds like a stream in the hospital

The doctor finds the girl’s mother holding her hand
Both weeping, the mother saying
My daughter, may dust and soil protect you now
We will make you a bed of dust and soil
We will send you to the cemetery where you will be safe

The brothers have spoken to the police who command
The women’s shelter where she now is staying
To release her to them
They have promised not to harm her
But everyone understands
Lying is not a sin when one’s honor is at stake

Even the mother understands this
Even the child understands
Only  Dr. Sarwari, director of the shelter, is furious
She shouts at the police like a grey old crow
And the journalist who is doing his job
Getting the story
May climb inside the bottle tonight

And I who read the story
Will summon my mother, wherever she is
In the next world, perhaps in the paradise
She didn’t believe
Existed, she for whom honor was not
A concept, she from whom I learned
Liberty and fury,
Her weapons in this world.

Italicized lines are quoted from this story (NYTimes,  
July 19, 2014).

This poem first appeared in HEArt Journal Online (September 2014) and is printed here with the permission of the author.

Alicia Ostriker was born in 1937 in New York City. Twice a finalist for the National Book Award, Ostriker has published fifteen volumes of poetry, including The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011, for which she received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, and The Book of Seventy (2009), which received the Jewish National Book Award. Other books of poetry include No Heaven (2005); The Volcano Sequence (2002); Little Space (1998), The Crack in Everything (1996), and The Imaginary Lover (1986), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award. Her most recent book of poems is The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog.

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