Helmand Province, Afghanistan
The earth is the color
of the sky which
is the color
of the dirt
They tell us
we breathe the dirt
up here. Moon dust
and dried-up shit.
With intake of breath
the silt. Coats the spongy
pink of the lungs.
On the dustiest days
we cough up mud.
If it ever rains it
streaks. Dirty tears.
Some days there’s a mountain
tipped with wisps of snow
off on the horizon. Some days
just a flat grey scrim. Haze
over the ghosts of old dead rivers.
The dust chokes out the satellites.
Unusable, your dish becomes a nest.
No internet for days—laptops turn to paperweights.
We rediscover writing. Tracing the shapes.
In the blackouts
our grey-booted feet
learn the dark and the rocks.
One of my boys brings me an old dead bullet.
I bored a hole through the top, he says,
so you can wear it on a chain. With luck
the only one you ever stop.
Children, I tell them in my lecture,
many thousands of years ago
the people here believed
in a place they called the House of Dust.
The place where all our souls went down
to wait for who knows what. Slowly
feeling the change. Some said the waiting ones
began to sprout soft doves’ feathers. As if maybe
to fly. One day. Wings the pink and gray.
Of the swirling dirt.