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.