Saturday, March 28, 2015

remembering farkhunda

Farkhunda. Farkhunda was her name.
     Some news stories are so odious, so heinous, that the stain of their airing lingers. Festers for weeks.
     It is raining here as I type.
     Eight days ago, outside the Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque and shrine, set in the heart of Afghanistan’s reformed capital, Kabul - a short distance from the Presidential Palace - the law was found wanting. A young woman was accused of inciting a fever in verse. A fever which smouldered. Erupted in flame. Feeding on the word as law.
     No person less exalted than this central mosque's mullah, it seems, accused Farkhunda of burning the Quran.
     Though no one saw her commit any such act, word quickly spread throughout the maze of streets and lanes. Dancing on the rooftops. Igniting in mouths. An assembly of townspeople gathered at the shrine.
     It is unclear whether Farkhunda sought shelter in the mosque.
     Initial reports on the BBC's World Service spoke of banging on the doors, of rocks the size of fists hurled at windows.
     What is certain is that the young woman was caught up in the mob. Punched and kicked by outraged teenage boys and men. Folded through the gates.
     One of them closest to her struck her in the face with a stick. Another knocked her to the ground.
     The district's police were alerted. Accounts have it that the division station is situated less than one kilometer from the shrine. Police were certainly present.
     Emboldened by the screams of righteous men and women, a curtain of blood obscuring her face where her veil was stripped away, she was stamped on repeatedly. Trampled on by scores of feet.
     The weight of tendons. Bone. Pulsating hearts.
     A car.
     Farkhunda was driven over and dragged by a rope for several yards. Someone produced a canister of petrol and fuel was poured over the hapless woman. Someone else produced a match. Farkhunda was set alight.
     The police stood well back and did nothing to protect her. Their attempts to disperse or contain the mob were enervated at best. Makeshift cudgels and debris rained down on her. A blanket was thrown over her prone body to assist in the burning.
     A woman, not much older than the victim, spat in the direction of the blaze and jeered. Others, still, celebrated by punching the air. All of this recorded on cellphone, and distributed on Facebook.
     Later, rumours persisted that Farkhunda was still alive when they dumped her body in the river. The apparatus of the law appeared to have lost its voice. The imam made no comment.
     Several arrests were made after tempers cooled.
     It took two hours to murder her. 120 minutes. To rub her out. To annihilate a voice of reason forever.
     Her family issued a statement to the effect that their daughter had been mentally unstable for a number of years. It transpired this statement was in fact concocted by the chief of police, allegedly to safeguard Farkhunda's immediate family from reprisals.
     The truth simply beggars belief.
     Ultra-conservative in her faith, according to her father - a studious undergraduate in religious studies, a volunteer at her local school, where she taught the Quran to children - witnesses have it  that the 27-year-old quarreled publicly with mullahs over their practice of encouraging impoverished local women to squander their money on tavees - charms - and of preying on superstition. Their argument escalated to the point where she was denounced not just as a heretic, but falsely condemned for burning the Quran: a crime punishable by death under Muslim law.
      Just a few weeks after the capital's celebrating International Women’s Day, on March 8, with a number of events sponsored by the many international agencies working for Afghan women and human rights, such a despicable turn of events could scarcely have come at a worse time.
     A policeman who witnessed the incident from its outset, Sayed Habid Shah, said Farkhunda had denied the mullah's accusations.
     "She said I am a Muslim and Muslims do not burn the Quran."
     Official investigators corroborated her claim.
     Following international and domestic pressures, police purport to have detained some eighteen individuals connected to the incident, in addition to suspending thirteen policemen for dereliction of duty. It remains unclear, however, as to whether criminal charges supplement this suspension.
     It would appear, too, that the mullah responsible for inciting Farkhunda's murder remains immune to prosecution.
     Uniquely, in a very public splinter from tradition, women's rights activists bore Farkhunda's coffin at her funeral.

for farkhunda

PAUL BOWLES: THE GARDEN from "The Voice of Paul Bowles" cassette TELLUS (#23) (US) 1989

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

feek and feck

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Thursday, March 12, 2015


It was raining. Not a tidy deluge, nesting its own rhythm, but the vilest of drizzles. Flurrying up into the face and ears. Fizzing on the end of one's nose.
     A celtic rain.
     Birds settle in trees and eaves to escape it. Those mistiming it wheel back on the wing as if struck by a leading left hook.
     So goes Pablo. One hand curled tight around his son's. Steering him clear of the most threatening of puddles. A broken chair. The mattress left out to soak.
     Fucker, fucker, fucker, he thinks.
     Chin crouched this way and that.
     Ha. Ha. Ha. The child goes. Drinking it down.
     The pavement ritually bathes. Never in the sun. Its gutters are muddied, inches deep in stagnant water when it stalls; detritus racing by to stick up a storm drain when it floods. What fool architect unfurls his plans in the shade? The legacy of an era when white people recoiled from a window set ablaze. Suspicious of colour, loitering in obscurity. Sheltering a smile in the most fashionable of moustaches.
     Pablo misses the glaze of summer. Flowering plants laid out on the sill.
     The book he resides in is bent.
     They get to the nursery and there are cars parked everywhere. Right around the corner. Black lotuses, blossoming straight out of potholes in the asphalt. The odd red. A blue.
     Mothers make a dash for it. Between kerb and intercom. The playground is a lake they must negotiate. He catches the fire door before it closes, and they step inside a hothouse of finger paintings. Coats on pegs. A jumble of wet footwear underpinning benches.
     Motherfucker, he thinks. Glad no one can hear him.
     He helps his son step out of his jacket and hangs it up to drip. Switches shoes for Plimsolls.
     Ha. Ha. Ha.
     His boy and a little girl trade feints and jabs. The girl is dressed as Spiderman from the waist up. Her face is flushed as if she has just come from the beach. A thousand miles away. He separates them with an anxious flutter and shepherds his son to the classroom. Signs his name on the sheet attached to the wall. Purple. Yellow. Green. Each little group carefully colour coordinated.
      A woman comes to the door and opens it. The matronly type. They exchange pleasantries but, it seems to Pablo, they might as well be chewing on bubblegum.
      Pop. Pop. Pop.
      Ha. Ha. Ha.
      He is reminded that the school is collecting for charity, and dutifully purchases a cookie wrapped in brown paper. It will be a miracle if it survives the weather.
      No, no, he declines when offered some coins as change. Ha. Ha. Ha.
      He waves to his son through the glass panel on the door and smiles at the young couple who materialize at his elbow. Waiting their turn to sign the sheet. Returning his grin falteringly as he all but throws his hands in the air and steps away from the wall.

Monday, March 9, 2015

one minute poem

There is nothing
quite like tossing and turning
in one's quilt
one foot caught in the tear
to beat
a trip to the laundromat
or sewing
the cat in the bag to hurl
in the torrent
of one's own worst nightmare

Sunday, March 8, 2015

fagin, retiring

Overcome by the coughing, tins of beans rattling against my knees, I danced into the side street. Opened my mouth on a wad of phlegm.
     It leaped into the gutter.
     I paused to catch my wind. Convinced my heart would stop.
     "What a horrible old man."
     The bile wafted down from a tenement window. I glanced up, trying to attach a face.
     All there was were curtains hanging. Balloons. The unseen celebrating
one more birthday.

Friday, March 6, 2015


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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

the package

I should not have answered the door.
     It was late in the afternoon, and I assumed it was safe. I was working on my second glass of the day when I heard the summons. Deliberating on just how expensive it used to be to operate a typewriter. You know. The paper; those ribbons. It all added up. I have a printer, but it is forever out of ink. I seldom use it. Better just to bang away at the keyboard one fingered and send it out into the ether. The costs are marginal. And no need either for indented paragraphs, since no pulp is involved. Chainsaws. A damn sight easier on the eye these days. Unless one is especially anal and hankers after tradition.
     Anyway. There I was, doing nothing much in particular when I heard a persistent knocking. I don't have a bell, I can't abide the Pavlovian ring to it. If I still possessed a manual typewriter, an electric one even, I might never have heard the sound of bare knuckles on wood. Not over the relentless hammering these old machines served up when stroked.
     I stopped typing and made up my mind to answer it. I might just as easily have ignored it, you understand, but there I found myself, in front of my own front door, my fingers already on the key, turning it, and that - as they say - was that. Done fucking deal.
     The parcel courier could not have grinned any wider if he'd tried. It split his face ear to ear. One more wound in a weathered face. Rained on by hatchets. Inured to the fortune cookie. Had I ignored his knock, as expected, he would have been forced to drag his package back down the stairs unclaimed.
     "Can you take this parcel for your neighbour, buddy," he rasped.
     "Which one ?"
     "3/2. Morrison."
     "Oh, well," I hesitated. "I suppose so. I hardly know her, you know. Just to nod to. In passing."
     "You'd be doing her a favour."
     Fucker. He had me and he knew it.
     "I'll put a card through her door."
     Calculating the return trip upstairs to be worth the trouble.
     The old bastard sounded worse than me. A three pack a day habit. Two at the very least.
     The stairs are a killer.
     "Oh, all right," I conceded. And scrawled my name where prompted.
     Lol. He looked like a Lom, as in Herbert. In full makeup.
     I closed the door and took a long cold look at that package. It was big, though not especially heavy. A millstone around my fucking neck.

Monday, March 2, 2015