national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

On Self-Immolation

Susannah Sharpless  • 
Princeton University


“Zarmina took solace in writing love poems and reading to the women of Mirman Baheer by phone. Then came the spring day in 2010 when Zarmina got caught reading these poems and her brothers beat her. A couple of weeks later, according to her aunt, when the girl was cleaning the house, she locked a door behind her and set herself alight.”—The New York Times, April 2012


she called in from the highlands
refused a secret silence
her words wildfire against poppy and stone:


This is happening to me. Do you care?


a landai is a snake
a woman weaves like a flower
in her warrior’s braid


on the other line the poets heard
the sibilance     stooped for it as it slithered by
the skin peeled like syllables


Are you listening?


her sister heard, teasing at the stream
but fearful also                how many lovers do you have?
her mother heard
stroked silence across her cheek


when her brothers heard
they thought boy            they thought man
they rose like mad winds


she gathered her burqa
like sandstone around her
her verses were flowers


     she flowered with bruises


     Are you there?


a heart is a humming on a henna night,
a drum beat at a wedding feast
she wrote she would wilt:


    water, water.