Back a week from the grave. He pecks at the food his sisters set before him. He is afraid to sleep. He imagines the eyes of everyone upon him but they are careful not to stare, a meaningless courtesy: the midday sun consumes both sight and soul. His funeral shroud is unburnt—he won’t allow it—but his sisters refuse to permit its being brought into the house. Sometimes they catch him holding it to his face and weeping into it. It smells so foully that not even the crows will approach it. He rarely speaks but sometimes talks of going away. It is almost, to their shame, to be wished for.
We take turns monitoring the storm’s approach; I’ve rolled the awnings, taken laundry from the lines. Dull strips of cloud stretch from the west; Wind-prodded, trees wake from an afternoon’s listlessness.
My wife completes one last stitch from her sewing. In the lull, I read from Genesis: Yahweh. Fed and rested in the shade of a terebinth tree, Walks toward Sodom and Gomorrah, cities of the plains.
Their contempt, we can be sure, is unforgiven. We know by instinct not to meddle with such intimacy. The tornado sirens sound; all over town, citizens Descend to their basements. The temperature drops.
Wind and rain begin their agony; divine demonstrations. My wife kisses me, covered with the cinders of Lot’s hope.
Rahila Muska, a teenage girl, lived in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold. Muska was known for regularly calling into a radio program on which women share landays, a traditional Pashtun form of poetry. Like most women who do this, Muska shared other people’s poems, not her own—to acknowledge authorship would have endangered her life.
The diaries of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon have been digitized and made available to the public by the University of Cambridge. Sassoon, a British soldier, was quickly disillusioned by the war and became an outspoken war critic. His diaries feature poetry, prose, and drawings and include his 1917 antiwar “Soldier’s Declaration,” which got him committed to a hospital for the duration of the war. He described the first day of the Battle of Somme as a “sunlit picture of hell” (BBC, July 31).