A conversation with William Pitt Root and Daniela Gioseffi in this issue.


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Contributor Notes

William Pitt Root
William Pitt Root

The Unbroken Diamond:
Nightletter to the Mujahideen

Yes, your stories reach us

just as the grit once a summit in our country
reaches you, imperceptibly
dusting your upturned faces
                           calling on Allah,
scanning the indifferent blue skies
         armed with helicopters
— that iron nightmare politics has built
into your lives.

Our sunsets
intensified by that volcanic ash
remind us
of your tragedy, your sunsets
behind villages
               in flames
from the bombings
where figures stumbling darkly up from rubble
search out
the others who do not rise.

Stories of
the unbroken diamond of your resistance.


those nine
spring days are called
“The Children's Revolt”—

as if
your children could be children, as if
the girl fifteen who tore her veil off

        and handed it
to a soldier Here, give me your rifle
could any longer be a child


                                   Or as if
at the head of the column of chanting students
Nahid Saed, first
        of the seventy to die that day
rounds point blank in her body—,  as if
that daughter
who became the daughter of your land
could turn
her ruined face
to answer a father again.

The stories reach us

—How you refuse
to attend an unveiling,
turning away
from a new flag whose bright face is
the old lie of complicity,
and of how
troops fire into your faces,
Afghan troops
inexplicably your own.

Their faces freckle with your blood.

               Yes, we do hear
how you stone the limousine
of the Soviet ambassador
until again
foreign guns in the hands of your countrymen
able to kill you,
to stop your carrying of the dead and shattered into a high school
where 5,000 students, male and female,
answer on the occupied streets of Kabul
          Death to Babrak Karmal
          Death to Bresnev
          Where is America
          Are we not human beings

We hear of that ten-minute slaughter
 of students
by machine-gun fire, hear then
the charge of 2,000 horsemen—
swords drawn, electric cattle-prods high,
the ancient weapons and the new—
into the huddled dead and dying,
the screams of horses, and your cries.

there is the low moaning,
arms lifting like fronds,
the thud of retreating hooves
muffled by earth trodden to red mud.

And we hear of your four more days of resistance.

We hear
how when the armored unit
surrounding you
blazes, you answer
simply with your blood until 2,000 more
rise up,
grab one soldier,
stab out his eyes—
as if to kill him were too simple,
as if to blind him were to eradicate what he has seen.

And we hear
of the puppet show that night
when televised officials

those bodies
in whose wet flames of blood
your hands
burn and burn
until even the blinded soldier must see by their light.

Yes, all these stories reach us
in blocks of black-and-white
we would hurl back

empowered by every mile and lie
 between us
to scourge your nation clean.

If wishes were pumice.

If words were scouring stones.

         But all that reaches you
from us
is apolitical ash, proof
of an old magnificence
shocked to dust

—grit as hard
and fine
as the skin
of a pearl run across the tooth
of a mujahadeen skillfully determining
its true worth.
                       He spits
as he continues to watch
the hammered blue sky and chants
to himself
ancient songs from a village turned
in 90 seconds
to light and the
smoldering limbs of family and friends,
the songs of shepherds
accustomed to solitude
now being used to keep armed men
aware of each other in the high passes.

Those wornwood crooks
you've managed your flocks with
cleverly tend
new herds now—
                   Soviet iron-tracks
your scouts lure
through ravines you seal with boulders
pried loose
by those staffs.

and terrified
too late, they spatter
canon- and machine-gun fire
 against the indestructible cliffs
where you are hidden, waiting
for the exhausted silence
you will break with dusty grins
and a calculated avalanche of native stone.

          Only once
have I stood on a summit
high as those passes
you guard like wives
—ten years ago,
while some of you were still children
playing among the billowing tents
at hoop-and-shadow games,
too shy
even to glance at those with whom
your children
have been born and raised.

                           We'd driven east
through the thinning darkness
those three friends and I,
toward dawn and the mountain
we climbed all morning long.
              we looked back
at a world all wilderness,
not unlike our own, and at the laketops,
each a remote
mirror to a bright fragment
of that vastness
no one sees all at once.  Then
I began to comprehend
the Indian comparison of
climbing the mountain
to knowing God, ridge after ridge
beckoning, each
a false summit,
only the euphoria
of feeling the mountain rise
to meet each step
kept us going— past excitement
and laughter, weariness
and silence,
past each new sense of limit
we imagined to be our last,
beyond pumice
              to rockface,
into snow and ice
 where the mountain disappeared
below us, leaving
us suspended
high on the rim of windfire and ice,
able to witness the world as a ring
to which our connection
had vanished.

                This is the mountain,
Fire Mountain,
whose summit circles the earth,
invisible to the eye where you are
except as a tint at sunset,
grit between your teeth
and the teeth of your wives and sons and daughters,
the teeth of your enemies—
this trace of Godhead inconspicuously everywhere.

Miraculously, overnight
the countryside
   so long a familiar nightmare
   where crops are routinely burned
   so only the stones mature
is wonderfully ablaze—
littered with glittering firetrucks,
          balloons, sticks of chewing gum
and, most irresistible of all,
little dolls that smile!

And every item ingeniously
even the lightest touch:
and magically the hand
disappears, the fingers
are suddenly stubble
charred as the fields, and the scalps
shed braids of ragged  blood and dust,
naked as all the mountain meadows
           goats have overgrazed.

Ffffoooofff and wonder takes the shape of fire
 formerly a child
             scrambling and billowing
in the grass,
clawing now
              at eyes too intently innocent
to suspect the gift
               come from nowhere.

Wouldn't workers somewhere wonder
why they've been devising toys
     that blast, stun, blind
 then  inextinguishably burn
so the last thing some child's eyes
ever will behold  are
      her own hands
curling into claws?
can human hearts so crudely hardened
contrive nonetheless with a delicacy so meticulous?

I am a man whose one power is telling.

I tell you this:
                       I would give you words
massive as boulders to roll against tanks and iron-tracks,
delicate words to heal the roses driven
by dumdum shells into your flesh,
words of silk and gut to restore each maimed limb
from the truckload of arms and legs
hacked off in a single village
and dumped in a square in Kabul,
words to re-root tongues
torn from the mouths
of those who warned you,
milk-words rich and white for the myriad infants
     held to shrunken breasts of mothers
starving in Kohat and dozens of camps
thousands flee to over Parachinar Pass
through the Speen Ghar Mountains.

                       —I would give you
wind-words to dispel the experimental gasses
                                  of Soviet advisors,
to disperse the yellow rain and scatter
      mists of blue and green
each composed
to destroy in another way
the frail machinery of the human body,
hearts and minds betrayed by their own blood.

                       —I would give you
healing words to mend the lungs and shorted nerves
and bursting veins
of the hundreds, the thousands
of you who fall gasping
 and hacking up sudden blood
with your nose-blood gagging you
and ear-blood hot along your necks,
anus-blood and manroot-blood scalding your legs
      to your boots and bare feet,
eye-blood blinding you as you look up
to take aim.

                       —I would give you
heat-seeking words to bring down the observers taking
                   notes in helicopters circling overhead
on stop-watches
with Cyrillic numerals
how long it takes before
you with your muzzle-loaders
and your women and children with slingshots and rocks
collapse, then
how much longer it takes you to stop writhing altogether
on sodden ground among the unscathed huts.

I would draw
            from Nahid Saed
the thirty traitorous pieces of lead
and give them to her
for charms.  To the eyes
of your women
raped like the land, helplessly shamed
by the violence of men
whose shadows dark as vultures
seed the valley with fire and char,
I would restore
the brilliance and tenderness
toward you,
toward themselves.  Toward your children.

If words were scouring stones.

If wishes were pumice.

With the stone of helplessness
huge under my tongue,
I tell you your story is heard.

Your story is being heard.