Kim Zach, “At the Bird Market in Kabul”

Kim Zach’s work has appeared most recently in Bone Bouquet, Adanna Literary Journal, Genesis, and U.S. 1 Worksheets. Her poem “Weeding My Garden” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A lifelong resident of the Midwest, she is a retired high school English teacher who has found a second career as a book coach.

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At the Bird Market in Kabul

She weaves her way over the sun-cooked
       path, in the heated shadow of her husband.
               His anger scatters rocks and dogs.

Vendors huddle in the narrow doorways
       of their tented stalls. Wood-frame cages
               dangle and twirl above.

Buyers search among the captive birds—
       a diamond dove, a desert finch,
               a red-fronted serin.

She observes the birds from behind the mesh
       grille of her blue veil. Like caged jewels,
               their marbled gaze beckons.

Her husband strokes his beard, brandishes
       his fist. But he surrenders the coins,
               like the bride price he paid for her.

He turns, the coveted pet in hand. His fingers
       snap, ordering her to follow. The songbird,
               wings tucked, is silent.

She hesitates as he strides away. He swings
       the cage aloft, churring to the bird. Still,
               her sandals hug the dirt.

Overhead, swallows circle in warning,
       then wheel towards the distant mountains,
               cool with mist and snow.

She struggles to breathe, dizzy with their
       whispers of good-bye, their long flight
               over the Caspian Sea.

Her pulse thrums inside the burqa. She clutches
       the fluttering folds, imagines unravelling
               the embroidered blue threads.

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