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Thursday, September 09, 2021


by Ying Wu

The Taliban fired shots into the air to disperse crowds who had gathered for a rally in the capital, the latest protest since the Taliban swept to power last month. Photo: EPA via Aljazeera, September 8, 2021

Smoke burns our throats in Sacramento.
California is on fire.
Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban.
I stare into the ashen sun,
and think about the ones who fled—
songs and stories ripped asunder,
flames howling at their doorsteps—
and the ones who couldn’t get out in time—
how beneath this very sun,
some tried to flee, but did not escape—
and the dreams of a generation
annihilated before our eyes—
and the dreamers in hiding,
and the women sent home.
I want to revel in the splendor of the Siskiyous,
but everywhere is haze, shrouding
the sugar pines and ponderosas—
Mt. Shasta erased completely—
and the sun the color of pink lemonade.
Near Ashland, we hike a quarter mile
across dusty, red lakebed
overgrown with cocklebur.
I want to camp beneath the shady oaks,
but the campground’s closed,
and the spigots, shut off.
I want to play guitar
in my folding paisley camp chair,
but a suicide bomb in Kabul has ripped
through the crowds at the airport gates.
I want to swim and shiver and splash
even here in this shrunken reservoir,
but the mud is too thick,
and the water, stagnant—
and the airlifts are ending,
and the bathrooms are locked,
and the treasury is bankrupt,
and the paddleboats, beached—
and thousands have fled,
but millions can’t leave.
A hot, dry wind rustles
the golden grass of August.
What awaits the women and girls
Of Afghanistan?
Women have their own rights,
the Andar district governor tries to reassure,
but his words burn in my ears
like the smoke in my lungs from
the massive infernos
engulfing our mountains.
It has rained at the summit of Greenland’s ice sheet
for the first time in recorded history.
Wells have run dry in central Texas.
The UN “highlights the urgency of climate change,”
a Louisiana senator tries to reassure. 
“But we must avoid policies that rely on…increased regulation.”
How much Islam has given rights to women,
the Taliban tries to reassure,
we will give them that much.
That much.
They’ll give women that much.
While our leaders avoid policies
that rely on increased regulation.
They will give us that much.
While the fires are raging.

Ying Wu is a cognitive scientist at UC San Diego and executive editor of the Kids! San Diego Poetry Annual.  More examples of her work can be found online at Poetry & Art SanDiego, Serving House Journal, Writers Resist, and Poetry Pacific.  Her work is also featured in a permanent installation at the  San Diego Airport.  She leads research on insight, problem solving, and aesthetic experience and lives with her husband and daughter on a sailboat in the San Diego Bay.