Forty Names


Zib was young.
Her youth was all she cared for.
These mountains were her cots.
The 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 daughter
Zib marched with her father.
She learnt the ways to the caves and the ponds.

Young women gathered there for water, the young
Girls with the bright dresses, their green
Eyes were the muses.

Behind those mountains
She dug a deep hole,
Storing a pile of pebbles.


The daffodils
Never 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 tumbleweeds
All 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 of
Your dust carries whims from the mountains,
It brings me a story.
The story of forty young bodies.


A 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 colors
Lining 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.

Sediqa, Hakima, Roqia,
Firoza, Lilia, and Soghra
Shah Bakhat, Shah Dokht, Zamaroot,
Nazanin, Gul Badan, Fatima, and Fariba,
Sharifa, Marifa, Zinab, Fakhria, Shahparak, MahGol,
Latifa, Shukria, Khadija, Taj Begum, Kubra, Yaqoot,
Fatima, Zahra, Yaqoot, Khadjia, Taj, Gol, Mahrokh, Nigina,
Maryam, Zarin, Zara, Zari, Zamin,

At last Zibon.


No news. Neither drums not flutes of
Shepherds reached them, they
Remained in the cave. Were
people gone?

Once in every night, an exhausting
tear dropped — heard from someone’s mouth,
A whim. A total silence again

Zib calmed them. Each daughter
Crawled under her veil,
Slowly the last throbs from the mill house

Also died.
No throbbing. No pond. No nights.
Silence became an exhausting noise.


Zib led the daughters to the mountains.

The view of the thrashing horses, the brown uniforms
All puzzled them. Imagined
The men snatching their skirts, they feared.

We will all meet in paradise,
With our honoured faces
Angels will greet us.

A wave of colours dived behind the mountains,
Freedom was sought in their veils, their colors
Flew with the wind. Their bodies freed and slowly hit

The mountains. One by one, they rested. Women
Figures covered the other side of the mountains,
Hairs tugged. Heads stilled. Their arms curved
Beside 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 disappear

From PN Review. Reproduced with kind permission of Carcanet.