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Martine van Bijlert

after they hit the city

(Grozny, winter 1995)

I keep thinking of Isa the driver

sidling into the picture so he could

slip his arm around me his face soft

like a 1970s photograph

when we had a flat tire he rubbed

it with his thumb so slippery he said

even a fly can’t keep its footing

shy like he was always

almost dreaming

and there was a barbecue in the

crumbling castle of a courtyard

and a bald man in a long coat

whose source of money wasn’t clear

and the smell of charred and dripping meat

and the heart of the city had been ripped out

and was inhabited by dogs who didn’t look

like they would kill

stray pipes sprayed gas and breathed fire

while old ladies lived under sagging roofs

plastic sheeting spread across their beds

to keep the rain out

who brought them food?

who tucked them in?

and now you’re asked and then you’re told

(Kabul, August 2021)

what if twenty years from now

after last week in the cave of your room

with your curtains drawn

what of the welts on your back

the scarlet landscape where a stick

went looking for unbroken skin

what if you spoke up shaved your face

and the breeze kept tugging at the sky

what if the city, the school

the seat the minister

used to sit on

your house empty of people and full of

things that can be carried away

and now you’re asked to come to work

and then you’re told to go home

as if you’re the one who doesn’t belong

some people have time to play games

some people have somewhere to go


Martine van Bijlert is a poet, novelist and non-fiction writer, who grew up in Iran and now lives in the Netherlands. In between, she worked as an aid worker, researcher and diplomat, mostly in Afghanistan—a country she still closely follows from afar. Her poetry has just started appearing in places, among others in Kerning, The Dewdrop and Otis Nebula.


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