Her Daughter
Kathryn Stripling Byer

                  “charred dove
                nightingale still burning”
                                     Mirza  Ghalib, translated by W.S. Merwin

              Baghdad, April  8, 2003

Four years younger than mine,
her daughter lies under the rubble.

She stands at the edge of  it,
watching the men lifting one stone,

another, till out of the crater 
they gently lift somebody’s

body, a body she now
sees is female.  She tries to recall

what her daughter was wearing, 
but no scrap of clothing remains

on it. Whose body is it?  She sees
no face.  She sees no head.  

At the edge of the crater she stands
while they swaddle the body in blankets

a neighbor has brought.  Through 
the blasted streets she calls 

 a name that gets lost 
in the rattle of gunfire, a name

no one hears as they pull 
from  the rubble her daughter’s

head, hair twisted round like
a root-wad, not blonde

like my daughter’s, not waking
up as  my daughter will be, being safe

on this morning in Texas, beginning 
to brush her hair after her shower, 

her face in the mirror as perfect as 
always I see it, the fair skin

she wishes had South Asian
dusk  in it, not Southern 

sun  from the fields of her mother’s
line, as she examines

the scar on her temple,
the chin she believes looks 

not quite smooth
enough, while her fingers

scroll over its surface
as if they are translating 

Arabic,  word after
unsteady word of a ghazal

that she must  recite
today, all the while fearing

her voice will fail
even as she tries

to fill up the silence
with Ghalib’s desire 

to see, lost in the blaze
of the  mirror

that holds her,
the face of the Beloved.

Originally appeared in The Atlantic

Return to Fall 2013 Table of Contents