As we begin National Poetry Month in the United States, we offer this powerful piece from Stacy Parker Le Melle, who shares the poignant work of poets from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), a program that helps women and girls write about their lives and dreams. When Stacy responded to our request to share the latest poetry from AWWP poets, she said the recent brutal murder of Farkhunda, a young Afghan woman, was "so on our minds, hearts, tongues...I couldn't write about anything else."
In March 2015, a young Afghan woman named Farkhunda was accused of burning the Qur’an and was beaten, run over by a car, thrown from a rooftop, and set afire by young men in the Kabul streets. She pleaded her innocence but this meant nothing to the mob that assaulted her and took her life.
Later, Afghanistan’s chief investigator would declare there was no evidence to support the accusation. Later, we came to know Farkhunda to be a deeply devout and learned woman who may have been protesting the sale of charms outside of a mosque. We can never know the whole story because Farkhunda is dead and cannot speak for herself.
But Farkhunda’s Afghan sisters immediately spoke up—as did her brothers. Women and men in Afghanistan and abroad protested. In a profound break from tradition, women carried Farkunda’s coffin to her final resting place. And at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, writers composed powerful poems of witness, determined that Farkhunda’s name will be remembered and justice served.
In “I am Sorry, My Sister” the poet Sayara wrote:
They beat you, they punished you
They burned you, they judged you.
It is Afghanistan, where the people
act as court and law.
They took pictures and
watched you burn.
I want to write your name in red
with black coal: Marta-yer Farkhunda.
We will rename the Shah do Shamshera
Farkhunda Road to
honor your memory.
In “Fears” the poet Leeda writes of how terror affects her wellbeing:
A toy in men’s hands
Must I pass my life in darkness?
I am afraid now
How much violence can I tolerate?
What kind of sin is worth such brutality?
I am discouraged about our future
I am afraid
In “Farkhunda’s Force,” the poet Sitara laid blame at the feet of the male murderers. But she didn’t end her poem with despair. Instead she declared that Farkhunda’s force would live on:
They were men
Mark them forever as traitors
Those savage rioters
In the bodies of men
Farkhunda suffered and died
But her force lives on
Writers like Sitara, Leeda, Sayara, and others from AWWP who have written about Farkhunda, speak up bravely, forthrightly, truthfully—a powerful, poetic retribution. This is a turning point. No one will forget what happened to this woman. Word by word, action by action, love is doing its work, making the space for social change.
Whenever I worry that progress is slow, I return to one of my favorite poems by Masooma, “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.” Here is an excerpt:
Yesterday my sister looked at the world through a small window.
Today she sees the world through her camera,|
And tomorrow the world will see everything through her documentaries.
Yesterday my country’s women had no rights.
Now they are fighting for their rights,
And tomorrow they will have the same rights as men.
Yesterday my country was a desert.
Now my brothers and sisters are planting trees,
And tomorrow, in this garden together, we will live in peace.
Here’s to all of us cultivating this garden, making room for peace.
Stacy Parker Le Melle is the workshop director for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.