Register of Eliminated Villages

by Tarfia Faizullah

“I have a register which lists 397 eliminated villages, Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq…it’s a very decorative, pretty thing…” –Kanan Makiya, Frontline, Winter 2002

Somewhere in this insomniac
night my life is beginning
without me. In Northern Iraq,
it is high noon, the sun there

 

perched over fields shriven
with lilies, the petals of orange
poppies red with a light
that a gauze of gray sparrows

 

glides through over sheaves
of bone too stubborn to burn,
all that is left of those razed
towns. Mother turns to Father

 

in the cold room they share,
offers her hands to his spine.
I curl inside her, a silver
bangle illuminated by candle’s

 

flame. I curl beside you, lay
my head close to the smooth
vellum of your back, try
again to sleep. Count to 1,000,

 

you suggest. Count to two.
Three. As someone must count
hacked date trees, hollowed
hills paved into gardens, though

 

the scholar on tonight’s
Frontline only counted each
town destroyed: three
hundred ninety-seven of them.

 

Who counts dolls, hand
stitched, facedown in dirt?
Count to five. Six. Count
body, bone, belongings: pots,

 

spun from red clay. Who
will count the amputated
hands of thieves? Mother
presses a hand to me. Inside

 

her, I thrash, a stalk of wheat
blistered by storm. Sleep comes,
brief as daylight. I startle
awake, turn to you. The register,

 

I know, is real and beautiful,
filled with names of the dead,
strokes of sharp pencil elegantly
etched into thick pages. Father

 

presses an ear to Mother’s
belly. I am wide awake. Count
to seven. Eight. Nine. You
murmur, turn to me. Someone

 

must be counting hours
spent weaving lace the color
of moonlight for a young
girl’s dowry. I do not have

 

the right to count hours,
girls, dowries—only the skin-thin
pages of the Qur’an
I once cut a hollow into, condoms

 

I stored there, cigarettes.
Count each minute I waited
for my parents to fall
asleep. Count nights I sat alone

 

on the curb, held smoke
inside my mouth, released
whorls of it into the air.
Father leaves Mother asleep

 

on her side, the crocus
of my body nestled inside
her. I draw the thin sheet
over us. Father reaches for

 

the Qur’an, thumbs through
page after illuminated page,
runs a fingertip beneath each
line of verse, looks everywhere

 

for the promise of my name.

 

Tarfia Faizullah’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. Her prose has appeared in diode and The Nashville Review. A Kundiman Fellow, she is the recipient of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize, a Ploughshares Cohen Award, and a Fulbright Fellowship.

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