Forty Names

Parwana Fayyaz

IZib was young.Her youth was all she cared for.These mountains were her cotsthe wind her wings, and those pebbles were her friends.Their clay hut, a hut for all the eight women,and her Father, a shepherd.He knew every cave and all possible ponds.He took her to herd with him,as the youngest daughterZib marched with her father.She learnt the ways to the caves and the ponds.Young women gathered there for water, the younggirls with the bright dresses, their greeneyes were the muses.Behind those mountainsshe dug a deep hole,storing a pile of pebbles.IIThe daffodilsnever grew here before,but what is this yellow sea up high on the hills?A line of some blue wildflowers.In a lane toward the pile of tumbleweedsall the houses for the cicadas,all your neighbors.And the eagle roars in the distance,have you met them yet?The sky above, through the opaque skin ofyour dust, carries whims from the mountains,it brings me a story.The story of forty young bodies.IIIA knock,father opened the door.There stood the fathers,the mothers' faces startled.All the daughters standing behind them.In the pit of dark night,their yellow and turquoise colorslining the sky.'Zibon, my daughter,take them to the cave,'She was handed a lantern;she took the way.Behind her a herd of colors flowing.The night was slow,the sound of their footsteps a solo music of a mystic.Names:Sediqa, Hakima, Roqia,Firoza, Lilia, Soghra.Shah Bakhat, Shah Dokht, Zamaroot,Naznin, Gul Badan, Fatima, Fariba.Sharifa, Marifa, Zinab, Fakhria, Shahparak, MahGol,Latifa, Shukria, Khadija,Taj Begum, Kubra, Yaqoot,Nadia, Zahra, Shima, Khadija, Farkhunda, Halima, Mahrokh, Nigina,Maryam, Zarin, Zara, Zari, Zamin,Zarina,at last Zibon.IVNo news. Neither drums nor flutes ofshepherds reached them, theyremained in the cave. Werepeople gone?Once in every night, an exhaustingtear dropped — heard from someones mouth,a whim. A total silence again.Zib calmed them. Each daughtercrawled under her veil,slowly the last throbs from the mill-housealso died.No throbbing. No pond. No nights.Silence became an exhausting noise.VZib led the daughters to the mountains.The view of the thrashing horses, the brown uniformsall puzzled them. Imaginedthe men snatching their skirts, they feared.We will all meet in paradise,with our honored facesangels will greet us.A wave of colors dived behind the mountains,freedom was sought in their veils, their colorsflew with wind. Their bodies freed and slowly hitthe mountains. One by one, they rested. Womenfigures covered the other side of the mountains.Hairs tugged. Heads stilled. Their arms curvedbeside their twisted legs.These mountains became their cots.The wind their wings, and those pebbles their friends.Their rocky cave, a cave for all the forty women.And their fathers and mothers disappeared.

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Parwana Fayyaz is an Afghan writer and a scholar of medieval Persian poetry. Born in Kabul, she was raised in Pakistan. After finishing high school in Kabul, she enrolled in an English language immersion program and subsequently began her undergraduate studies in Chittagong, Bangladesh. She transferred to Stanford University and earned both her B.A. in 2015, with a major in Comparative Literature (with Honors) and a minor in Creative Writing (Poetry), and an M.A. in Religious Studies in 2016. She then moved to Cambridge University to pursue a PhD in Persian Studies at Trinity College and took up a Research Fellowship as the Carmen Blacker Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge University in October 2020. Her debut collection, Forty Names, was published in 2021 by Carcanet Press, and it was named A New Statesman Book of the Year and A White Review Book of the Year.

"This is a collection that rewards the reader who carefully unravels and is patient with these poems - these stories - quietly reminding the reader the importance of witness as a collaborative process."
— SK Grout, The Alchemy Spoon

"My book of the year is a debut, a slim collection of poetry called Forty Names (Carcanet) by the young Afghani poet Parwana Fayyaz. 'No one ever wanted to know/what the real story was.' As clear as unruined water, as courageous as a poet can be in these times, as haunting as the 'brutal history' it records and as marvellously summoned as the lives it celebrates, it's a calm reclamation and a tour de force."
— Ali Smith, New Statesman Books of the Year 2021

"Independent and timely, a lyrical act of witness"
— Martina Evans, The Irish Times

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