Poetry November 2005

Her Daughter

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"Charred dove, nightingale still burning"
Mirza Ghalib

Baghdad, April 8, 2003

Four years younger than mine,
her daughter lies under the rubble.

She stands at the edge of it,
watching the men lifting one stone,

another, till out of the crater
they gently lift somebody's

body, a body she now
sees is female. She tries to recall

what her daughter was wearing,
but no scrap of clothing remains

on it. Whose body is it? She sees
no face. She sees no head.

At the edge of the crater she stands
while they swaddle the body in blankets

a neighbor has brought. Through
the blasted streets she calls

a name that gets lost
in the rattle of gunfire, a name

no one hears as they pull
from the rubble her daughter's

head, hair twisted round like
a root-wad, not blonde

like my daughter's, not waking
up as my daughter will be, being safe

on this morning in Texas, beginning
to brush her hair after her shower,

her face in the mirror as perfect as
always I see it, the fair skin

she wishes had South Asian
dusk in it, not southern

sun from the fields of her mother's
line, as she examines

the scar on her temple,
the chin she believes looks

not quite smooth
enough, while her fingers

scroll over its surface
as if they are translating

Urdu, word after
unsteady word of a ghazal

that she must recite
today, all the while fearing

her voice will fail
even as she tries

to fill up the silence
with Ghalib's desire

to see, lost in the blaze
of the mirror

that holds her,
the face of the Beloved.

Kathryn Stripling Byer has published five books of poems, including Wake and Wildwood Flower, which received the Lamont Poetry Prize. She is currently the poet laureate of North Carolina.
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