Mina Zohal, Baaraan-e Digar

We are deeply sorry for an error in the printing of Mina Zohal’s essay, “Baaraan-e Digar” in Apogee Issue 05. A paragraph of text was mistakenly added to her piece during production of the issue, which significantly affected the content. For this reason, and with our sincerest apologies, we are reprinting “Baaraan-e Digar” here in its entirety, with the author’s permission.



Every time you go home, we get hectic. We go to Walmart, Target, Big Lots, the dollar store, the coat factory, the thrift store, and Ross. We shop for eye drops for Amma jan; ties and socks for your brother, nephews, and cousins; perfumes for their daughters and wives; aspirin; a stuffed animal for Zargoona jan; and a cane for your Sufi kaka. We go over the power of attorney, the bills, the will, the plants, the mail, the keys, the yard, the car. I’m so worried about you. We pack and repack and pack and pack again. I sit on your suitcase and kiss your hands. I don’t tell you this, because I’m sick of those Wahabi pamphlets, but deep down, I still feel like a Muslim. You’re so stressed out at the check-in. In all these years, never once have you had to re-check your bags in Dubai. “Goddamn son of a bitch, those goddamn Arabs.” Shhhhssst. Choop, padar jan. Waa fkr meykonan ke tu terrorist hasti.


Buckle up, buckle under. When the many surfaces around collapse, cave in, and are then projected on a screen, I ask myself: do you know what forms are?


This is a problem of timing and extreme objects.


I can’t describe being Afghan. I can only try to describe my split-ness. I’m always reaching deep into the wells of seemingly endless linguistic resources. The bucket keeps coming up empty. I think: I am not very good at language. I don’t have the words for the what. The encounters I have at the edges of these wells hinge on the extent to which I can recognize a recognizable affliction on a face. Which is to say, when I open a text, I look for the scar. I trace it with my fingers.


[WARNING] The following photo gallery contains EXTREMELY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING IMAGES of violent deaths. Viewer discretion is advised.


In a break with protocol, the soldiers also took photographs of themselves celebrating their kill. In the photos, Morlock grins and gives the thumbs-up sign as he poses with Mudin’s body. Note that the boy’s right pinky appears to have been severed. Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs reportedly used a pair of razor-sharp medic’s shears to cut off the finger, which he presented to Holmes as a trophy for killing his first Afghan. Among the soldiers, the collection [of 150 images] was treated like a war memento. It was passed from man to man on thumb drives and hard drives, the gruesome images of corpses and war atrocities filed alongside clips of TV shows, UFC fights, and films such as Iron Man 2. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people,” one of the soldiers told army investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.”


I scan the perimeter, sucking the juice out of my pomegranate seeds. Spit them into the dirt. I stain my hands red and think pomegranate juice would make a nice lipstick. I rub the juice across my lips until they’re dripping magenta.


This is a picnic:


The chaotic grandeur of remembering is carried away as beauty compounds into its correlative. I best not forget my tablecloth manners. I best not forget that my nostalgia still might overwhelm me with its milky and romanticized eye.


Last spring, Hamid came to visit me in California. He’d been in the US for three years and was still obsessed with smart phones and sluts. I invited my dad and sisters and the Amiris over for a barbeque. We’re all sitting outside, drinking some dhor, talking. Bibi Haji is telling racist Pakistani jokes. Hamayoun says, “Jesus Christ, mom.” Hamid says, “I fucking hate Afghans and I fucking hate Muslims.” The sun was hot on my eyes. The old people put their heads down. Hamid, pushtet deq shodam, but damn, shoma ra chi shoda? Goomsho. We drink our dhor, talking around the elephant shit on the table. Before my dad left he took his game-face off and what was under it looked oddly fragile. Bacheem, he’s crazy. Mefahmam, padar jan. I know.


My dad’s emergency is a complex and inflected system of narratives stretched tightly around the past hundred years. He envisions a concrete and natural return in which everybody just goes back home. Sometimes his eyes are so fixed on the fantasy of reversing a thirty-year diaspora, caused by a thirty-year war, that the impossible return actually feels possible. Having had to continually renew his presence in two countries over many successive years––let’s face it, he’s exhausted. We all are. We’re a bunch of exhausted subjects. Even weddings are kind of a drag. Parties are gaps in remembering where we try to suspend ourselves. We dance, eat, and so forth. Despite our efforts, everybody still looks depressed. The bodies in my family have been broken down by the weight of our lived contingencies. They accumulate like particles and gnats. I point to erosion even when erosion is legible on his face.


Padar-e ma meyga ke Latif Nazim the bomb ast, so I promised I would include one of his nostalgic poems about return in my book. This is Nazim’s translation of one of his nostalgic poems about return:

We Will Return

We shall return

To turn our elegies into an epitaph

On the cemetery of the grape orchards of the North
On the corpse of the olive fields of the East

And on the funeral of the pines of the West
We shall return to sing the song of stone
On the tomb of Buddha

To plant a basket of anemones

On the sand-hills of Bamiyan
Someday it will grow, I know
We shall return

To mourn the anniversary of the pillage of our books
And the anniversary of the shredding of our poems
We shall return

To seize the funeral of freedom

From the geography of flog and turban
And fill the hungry mouths of guns with dirt and gravel
Oh my traveling beloved,

Let me hold your hand

So that we may hurry to revisit Rabia

And dress the wounded throat of the poetry lady
With the black silk of your tresses
We shall return

With olive branches hanging from our laps

With our fingers twisted

Our knapsacks stuffed with the gold coins of love

From the green lyrics of love

From the songs of red canaries

Finally we shall return
(Latif Nazim, Frankfurt 2002)


I don’t know how to answer that. But, when I was a child, when I closed my eyes to go to bed, I would see a face in the darkness. Its flesh disintegrating to the bone, over and over and over, ripened and dried. When I was in the fourth grade, my padar took me to the eye doctor because I was having trouble seeing the writing on the board at school. I told the eye doctor that when I closed my eyes, I saw a face in the darkness. Its flesh disintegrating to the bone, over and over and over, ripened and dried. I asked him if he could give me some glasses to fix that. He said he didn’t have any glasses that could fix that.


My emergency is less about historicity and more about impulse. I sometimes ignore the current conversation, I admit, and just keep muttering on and on about melancholy, homelessness, split-consciousness, and vertigo. I keep muttering on and on about debris, aftermath, trauma, and asymptotic narratives. I mutter on and on.


Shard in hollow case, its capacity to emit. Koko’s karah thelay lost somewhere above cracked latch. Wrist bruise gandana puchee.


Jamba Juice: Every time we get a smoothie, he asks my name. Every time, he references the time before in which he asked my name. Every time, he apologizes for asking my name again, and acknowledges that every time, he asks my name. I don’t know his name, I didn’t ask. The first time he took our smoothie orders, I received my first ever and only Russian apology, from a boy who was born years after that war had already ended. I call him my Russian Apologist. I feel an odd inclination to tell him this, but I don’t.


We go back and forth between English and Dari until we arrive at the definition of truncated. You mean you squished it? Baleh, padar jan, besyar khulas ast. Eventually, language splits the sides of our cheeks open and our signs and signs spill out.


Fahmidi-a nafahmidi. Fahmidi-a nafahmidi.


You were confidently poised for a life you knew you could never have. Our bodies became vectors, and so we made on the long road a kind of axis. The bent heads of daffodils, my fingers frozen, holding an axe. Foucault says: “the body is the inscribed surface of events.” I watch you drop your head back onto your shoulder again and again until cracked morphology. I want to spit at the cornered sky and say: what is it to be not interrupted?


I spend World Refugee Day by myself. I spend ten hours looking at images, reading articles, watching videos, and researching statistics. I look, and I look without looking away. I Skype Jalalabad, Kabul, Brussels, Lyons, and Toronto. I call Chicago, and Concord. Kaka Wais tells me that Tarik and Farishta smuggled themselves out, but got stuck in Turkey and she went back. Today Tarik is in a quarantine facility in Belgium. He’s trying to get to Holland. So that’s where the money went. What is it, like twenty g’s a head these days? I feel as though I’ve just punched myself in the stomach for ten hours, so I also look at “33 Dogs That Cannot Even Handle It Right Now, They Just Can’t”. I also watch a video of a goat playing on a slide because the title informs me it’s, “what happiness looks like”.


Sometimes I return to the mirror with longing, ideas, and ideas of longing for a world full of colored objects. Instead I see surfaces that reflect only a portion. There’s too much heat in my retina. Then slowly wink; wink my unseeing eye.


You want her to tune your rabab, but the point of music is vanishing like a string that burns in lapsed torrents, the way a shadow cannot catch the light.


Aimé Césaire writes: “And most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear.” The tragedies in my family stand as dark monuments, situated right between the eyes. I wander around them, a cross-eyed cloaked mourner, trying to avoid infection, while at the same time so eager to touch. Our sea of griefs is transferred from one generation to the next. Which is to say, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium.


Kaka Wais has been waiting thirteen years for you to tell him about my daughter. We sit around drinking tea like a regiment of the best photographers, though the politics of images has changed. We politely avoid the words Communist and Capitalist because what’s between brothers is between brothers. No one says the word harami out loud.


Sometimes, I wander the streets looking for a particular type of house, gam shodam, but I don’t feel like a tourist. I sit hands round knees to re-displace myself, to alter my own illusions. Sniffing out the rust and changing my position by one degree, I open my fingers and my eyes split and release. Much like huffing gas, my vicarious processes of signification are a spur. Ma yak dafa didamish, ama that’s enough to keep me desiring. I want something else besides: the gap, the cut.


You’re so worried about my health. Bacheem, don’t take the booze, as you gesture bending the elbow. You subdue horror and disappointment and refrain from giving your daughter the drinking is haram lecture. You worry that these acts are erasing us from sidewalks that aren’t even our own damn sidewalks.


It’s difficult to take stock of decline. I have to fight hard against the twitching of my missing limbs, my permutations. It’s not out of defiance, but rather a longing for a quiet place. My shabby grit stays just at the edge of the light, a periphery that isn’t a periphery, but a body. A body that isn’t a body, but something psychotic. It keeps growing out of the mangled trees. It comes with its shears right out of the sun. Never gels into shape. Never generates a name.


I was having tea with my friends Sita and Jayant. Back in the seventies, Jayant drove a bus back and forth between Delhi and Kabul. He remembers the days when hippies were smoking hashish in the tea houses and Afghan chicks were wearing knee-length skirts in public. It was a really cosmopolitan place, he tells me.

We’re sitting around, drinking tea and he tells me this story: I was at the Mexican market the other day, they have the best mangoes and avocados, I always go there for these things, and they are the cheapest, you should always go there when you need mangoes and avocados, it’s the best deal. Anyway, my Afghan friend works there at the register. He was weeping while he bagged my groceries.

“What’s wrong?” I ask him.

“Oh, I miss my auntie, she has died.”

“I am so sorry,” I ask him, “when did she pass away?

“Thirty years ago.”

Jayant’s eyes twinkle with glee as he laughs, slapping his thigh, pointing at me: You Afghans are a bunch of cry-babies!

He laughs and laughs as he mimes rubbing his eyes.



MINA ZOHAL is an Afghan American writer living and writing in the United States. She holds two creative writing degrees and lives with her daughter. “Baaraan-e Digar” is an excerpt from Didan wa Nadidan, a work in progress.



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