I am Dying Afghanistan

by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block
Second Place (tie), July 2009
Judged by George Szirtes


On Venice Beach, California. The tissue thin letter
of my father brings the hushed news: another school
blown-up and a hellfire drone takes a wedding party
for a terrorist cell.

I am aging and unemployed. Nobody understands
me in my first two languages. And what of it? 20 years
of war, 20 years of war.

A dog in a yellow jacket barks, a spray of saliva
opens on the air like smoke from a white cigarette,
a silver polyethylene bag for his shit.

The boardwalk skaters are oiled like Greek wrestlers.
Back home, the Taliban would shoot them for target
practice.

My father desires electricity and windows strong enough
to stop the whistling, hollow point bullet.

Bathers dip in the tepid waves. A beached monster
wreathed with drying ringlets of salt water stares
with one dead eye. His swollen black hump and slack
mouth opens and closes like a Japanese parasol.


"I am Dying Afghanistan" selects its material with real sharpness and ends superbly with the Japanese parasol. I admired the ambition, the level of complexity in the feeling. I wasn't quite sure whether the first verse was necessary or useful. Maybe it is a bit too explanatory, a bit too prosaically informative. The directness at the beginning of the second verse is excellent and takes us straight in. The Greek wrestlers are excellent too. --George Szirtes

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