(The Bride Sung In Stages)


The henna leaves are cool against her hands.

She loves the greenery and lauds the way

they shine beneath a veil of mist –


How perfect these are,  fresh and smooth

before they’re dried then crushed for the branding.

* * * * *

Now in the lamplight, her grandmother leans

against large pillows and laments,

singing for her and other bridal guests.


I pluck  strings of the rabab  wishing

I could blend his rough manners with its sweeter chords.

*  *  *  *  *

Married,  she stands in the waterhole

washing clothes with the other wives;

their shadows mingling with clouds

and a flock of birds. She pines


The river is cold. It’s current slow

carrying off love and the lather of soap.

*  *  *  *  *  *

At sunrise, she kneels working her loom.

A burqa hangs on the rusted hook. Its netting

has begun to fray like her voice, almost hoarse

as she continues to sing


I weave a rug with the colors of our daughter’s hair

but in his eyes, the wool is more profitable.

*  *  *  *  *

At night, the child cries as wild dogs

howl in the distance. She enters the room

giving the tiny girl some tea

laced with opium. Dead flies lie hidden

in vine leaves along the window sill


and the shine of her white robe

moves like water in the evening light.

A soothing figure as she whispers


Together we sip the flower’s sweetness

and wait with the moon till  it numbs our pain and fear.

*  *   *   *   *

Ramadan passes. A few hours later

gunshots shatter the silence. She drops a  bowl;

its boneware cracked  and stained

like that of the calf’s skull she saw

in the field  yesterday. Only today, she knows, she utters


Drought has dragged our fields  into dust,

and now war lugs my fate into widowhood.

                    *  *  *  *  *  *

A shack stands in the shadow of trees

that still flower without rain.. She lives here now

with a lamp, a stove and shelves storing

dishware and a broken doll.


Her fingers unlatch a window

and the wind sweeps through with almonds.

Their fragrance  lighter than her mood, her song


I have a  few cups to fill and wash

but in my dreams, the mouth and clothes of a lover.



This poem is written in a series of scenes and landays or the spoken words of the main character.  Hadessa, a bride who goes through a personal journey of struggle and grief.

Landay is a short poem of Afghani origin which means “short, poisonous snake”. It has been sung by women for generations, even centuries. Always chanted verbally, it has two lines — one consisting of approximately 9 to 10 syllables and the second consisting of 12 to 14  syllables.. Women spoke these verses in secret in the company of other women. If caught writing or singing poetry, the punishment would be a severe beating and the woman’s virtue tainted to the extent of a prostitute

Some references in the poem include the henna leaves which, till this day, are dried, crushed and used for a brownish dye to tattoo the hands of brides with ornamental designs; but also they are symbolic of a girl’s transition from her  maidenhood to that of a married woman.

The “rabab” mentioned is a three stringed instrument often used to accompany poetic songs or used for other ceremonies. Very similar to the sound and composition of a lute.

For centuries ,in Afghanistan, it has been the practice to settle or soothe restless babies and children with drops of opium in milk or tea. It was and is still used to alleviate the pain from intense labor, especially carpet weaving by hand. Something women do for a meager living.


    • Hi Craig,

      Thanks so much for always taking the time to read my work! I am glad you enjoy it and deeply appreciate your continual interest.

      My best


  1. Wendy,

    This poem makes me hurt. So skillfully written
    that the reader lives the life of Hadessa. I feel
    sure you must have been exhausted by the birth
    of this poem. It is all consuming and another
    masterpiece from your pen.



  2. Hi Sarah

    Your enthusiasm and endorsement of this poem means so much to me!! And yes, it did take a long time to write with several revisions over several years. Originally , this was inspired by and article on Afghan women in poetry at www. poetryfoundation.org back in 2013, I believe. It was a documentary done by poet/journalist/photographer, Eliza Griswold. I became fascinated by the poetry form and subject matter and “Hadessa” was created. Never fully satisfied with the original draft, I subtracted, changed and added verse of the years. Finally, it meets my approval and this is the end , hopefully, final result.

    Again, thank you so much!
    Take care


  3. Hi Michael

    Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts on this poem! I sincerely appreciate it! And yes, sometimes a poem just keeps haunting and never really seems done. This may be the case. Time will tell as they say.

    Again, thank you!


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