Mary Smith is a poet, novelist and journalist living in the south west of Scotland and working in both English and Scots.
She spent ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan on various health projects including leprosy, tuberculosis control and mother and child health.
During this time she began writing articles about life in Afghanistan for newspapers including The Herald and Guardian Weekly. She returned to Scotland in 1996, completing an Honours degree followed by an M.Litt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.
In the three poems below she creates a vivid picture of life in Afghanistan - the trauma of a former soldier, the ancient way of life of women working in the fields, the poverty and devastation of a country laid waste by war.
Eleven years of fighting against each other came to an end, opposing Commanders shook hands, embraced, told their men they were now as one – brothers united.
Only Zaffar stood apart, demanding: ‘If these men are not the enemy I was taught to hate, tell me how I reconcile killing so many of my brothers?’
His mother says he’s never been the same, always fretting how it came to pass he’s now on the side of the other side. Here, we’d label it post-traumatic stress, there, they shrug, call it life.
CUTTING FODDER IN AFGHANISTAN
Butterfly bright, in riotous rose-patterned frocks, hunkered down all afternoon, amongst milk-white clover, purple vetch and pink shaftal – with its heady, sugar-almond scent – three women, with careless rhythmic ease slice swathes of fodder.
Voices drifting on pollen-laden air dissect their world’s events – will Miriam’s baby be here for Eid? the calf born last week, crickets eating Moosa’s wheat, and who caused Basma to hide her smile, yesterday at the well?
Sweat runs ignored down dirt-streaked faces, arms ache for rest but no one stops till heavy creels flow over. Each helps the other hoist her load, rise to her feet. They move away spines straight, shoulders back – reluctant queens – heads forced high by leather straps.
Naoor – a stourie plain in Afghanistan, ringed aboot wi faur distant bens. An a gey strynge bit it is, whaur yir een play tricks makkin muckle sma, an sma – sic as sheep – big as hooses. Thir a rax o blue watter, miles lang, that isnae there at aw.
They telt me it’s an optical illusion, but A’m shair Naoor’s warked oan by an ill-hertit speerit.
A nivir seen sic poverty – weans staunin by the road, hurlin stanes at wur caur, shilpit craiturs, bare-fuitit, faces chappt by a snell wind bringin threat o snaw – airlie September yet, hairst no ripe. Temperature ablow freezin, we slept happt i sleepin baugs an thermals, unner a sky bleezin wi staurs.
In the mornin, efter dry breid an tea, we saw weemin gaitherin wheat stalk by stalk, as the furst snaw fell.
Images courtesy of Pixabay
These poems are taken from Mary Smith's collection, Thousands Pass Here Every Day, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2012.