Dropping Acid in the Hindu Kush, 1967
by Rafaella Del Bourgo
We eat milky Afghan caramels,
ignore the view below, the town, its river, the valley,
lie, instead, on our backs. Cobalt mountains,
the enormity overhead,
columns of arabi sheep, camels with bright ornaments,
fanged and tawny cats.
A lone barbary falcon perched on a nearby outcropping,
its cry sharp and piercing.
Silent departure of the sun.
Confusion of night. We’re hungry
and there is no map
for how to get back to where we were.
The path, narrow and rocky,
threads down into Kabul,
through tiny villages,
clumps of mud homes, dimly lit,
a few laundry lines,
a communal well.
United in a chain, laughing,
we stumble past barking dogs
near where those German boys had been stoned
to death last year.
The barking becomes louder, closer.
Men emerge with lanterns,
We stop, breath held,
but they can see us and continue calling;
Come, come. We feed you supper.
Tomorrow, we reply.
Thank you, tomorrow. Thank you.
Come, my wife make you supper.
That’s what they yell at us,
Back in town at our favorite restaurant,
western-style booths, cracked plastic,
and all the other customers local men.
Rice, lamb and hot tea,
the radio crackling out Afghani songs,
one after another.
Barb and I exchange a glance,
amazed that we know this next tune from folk-dance class.
We stand up, join hands,
begin to tap-step in the aisles,
fast, complicated kicks and turns
we never mastered in college.
We are perfect. We are flawless,
two bodies in unison, the music
coloring the air, drifting up
to the hookah-stained ceiling.
When it’s finished, we are still, panting.
Two young and careless American girls
eating in a neighborhood cafe
with our faces, our ankles showing.
and, in front of men,
forgetting ourselves in dance.
We do not know
that the Afghan culture is 3,000 years old,
but we do know all their women
are hidden away at home.
The men whisper among themselves
as if we could understand and be insulted
if they spoke out loud.
How much time passes? Many moments.
One man sighs, then claps. A second.
Some smile, their teeth brown, several missing.
Then, they all give in
First published by The Ledge, fall 2014.
PHOTO: Kabul, Afghanistan, with Hindu Kush Mountains in the background. Photo by Torsten Pursche, used by permission.
NOTE: The Hindu Kush is an 500-mile-long mountain range that stretches through Afghanistan, from its center to Northern Pakistan and into Tajikistan. Afghanistan is a landlocked country of about 32 million at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and China to the northeast. Occupying 252,000 square miles, it is a mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest. Kabul is the capital and largest city.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve traveled quite a bit. The events in this poem happened during my first trip abroad after I graduated from UC Berkeley. I spent nine months in the Middle East with a group of friends.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rafaella Del Bourgo’s writing has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Nimrod, and The Bitter Oleander. She has won many awards including the League of Minnesota Poets Prize in 2009. In 2010, she won the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award. She was also the 2010 winner of the Grandmother Earth Poetry Award. In 2012 she won the Paumanok Poetry Award. In 2013 she was the recipient of the Northern Colorado Writers first prize for poetry and in 2014, the New Millennium Prize for Poetry. In 2017 she won the Mudfish Poetry Prize and was nominated for the third time for a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild was published by Finishing Line Press. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and cat.