B&W circle

The Only Cab Service of Farmington, Maine

Aria Aber

He makes me sit next to him, so I inquire—
as if remembering his own smallness
would prevent him from violating another’s—
about his childhood. Cape Cod, he recalls:

how lonely he felt among the blue expanse
each winter, longed to travel, so he joined
the Marines. And I did travel, he fools,
all the way to Afghanistan. When I tell him

that’s where I’m from, his laugh crumbles,
and I am sorry for a trembling in me
or in him, I can’t tell. Too chagrinned to look
at his face, I observe krumholz, blurs

of frozen buds. Afghans are good people,
though, he disarms himself. And damn,
that food
. But I loathe my Afghan blood,
especially here, amid snowy balsam firs

and cookie-cutter houses. They saved,
you know
, his words butter me, my life—
gave me bread, warmth. They didn’t
have to. Bad things happened. Awful

things. Nothing is calmer today: Kabul
still mourns contaminated water,
and another suicide bomber. I shouldn’t
tell you this, but,
he coughs—I miss

it sometimes. The provinces were so hot—
it was like another planet.
I will never
feel at ease here, between subalpine hills, gas
stations advertising Nescafe and Dove.

But after eight years on the base, his voice
clear as a fist, you wake up, hating
the person in the mirror. Now my life
is about forgetting.
Is memory a privilege?

I couldn’t, after I arrived in the States,
remember a single damn village. Is it a sin,
then, to be envious that my driver
had a home in my home—yellow dust on long,

mountainous roads, where twenty-two civilians
died in the fourth attack this month—for longer
than I ever did? He has, I feel, estranged me.
You know, I hear his heavy, American voice

crack like a creek thawing under a deer, it’s good
to be back.
The unspeakable opens between us
its waters, cold, full of shame, until we drift apart
again, never asking for each other’s names.

space break


Even I, with my old-world passport
            and earflap hat, am settling,
at last, on what it means
            to be American, walking

by the cattle pasture, which,
            poisoned by a faulty protein,
has turned the buttery grass
            a psychedelic blue. Oh, to feel

so damn inadequate circled by
            milk sheds and wild onion,
snow peas glowing through rotted
            calf ribs. Or the chain-link fence

heaved by lover’s locks, which mimics
            the city that also greeted me
as foreigner, bereft, the soil
            an alien like the teenager

who trotted, yearning for a place
            to feel safe in, slowly into a field
and bathed in gasoline. A pyre
            that must’ve, if regarded from

a fair distance, seemed to the village
            priest an apparition
of God. To see in a pile of bones,
            an entire crop purged to ashes,

a divinity: isn’t this what it means
            to be in this country? I, too,
envisioned it—the sudden, perfect flare
            behind the dairy farm, the flock

of crows shocking the sky
            like a spasm of bullets—and almost
considered it, for an instant,
            holy. But when my nephew

today asked, why is the river
            always sad? I had nothing
than a drafted laugh to offer—
            Each pasture curses the river,

and each sand-mined pit
            turns, with the manufacture
of our garbage, to rot,
            but we call it beautiful.

And the field wherein
            his neighbor lay to burn, how
can we sing of it, when there’s
            so much mourning

to be done, and amid
            the tall, silvery hairs of wheat
even the insects we brush from
            our faces wear uniforms?

space break

A Pledge of Faith

For years, I was unaware of the meaning
            of Grace, that one could descend
from it the way I fell out of my life
            & into your summer. I’ve landed,

I tell myself, I’m mine again. On my walk
            today such abundance: the hawk’s
eyes still as a rosary, in my neighbor’s yard
            the grand piano recycled to a flower

pot, its chest babbling the leafy glow
            of thyme. Tiger lilies glazed with pustules
after humid rain. I was almost too ashamed
            to look at them. Their sincerity injured

me, like when you touched my face
            & said you’re beautiful. It was
the first time I believed it. But who was I
            to you, that afterwards, you always

yearned another, purer one; her name
            translating to the blessed one
before Allah, ease, a state similar to Grace.
            My name, I know, means nothing

to the Lord—I am so unholy, once I tore
            through the torrid perfume
in a field of lilies until I leapt defeated
            by divine assistance, I sat & wept

& masturbated in the dirty soil. I turn from beauty
            because it makes me want
to abase myself. When I knelt before you,
            you tasted of the evening

I delivered Mozart on piano, fingers
            trembling the black script
of longing, while my mad grandfather
            begged me to come home again.

Come back-back-back, he cried.
            Where had I gone? Oh, let me go
there again, with you, & surrender—this is what I
            believe in. Spirit, yes, but also

skin, the strange quiver in which the body
            wilts & sings. Before he lost
his mind, my grandfather’s eyes, the same
            gray eyes that witnessed Kabul

from a prison cell for years, saw
            me kiss the neighbor’s boy.
He tried to slap the sin out of me,
            his palm glazed with orbs of sweat

like yours as you grabbed
            my wrists on the green velvet
& touched me for the first time. It was
            a Tuesday. It was all I ever

wanted. On my walk today, the hawk’s eyes
            reminded me of her, your Grace,
& how no God in verse has uttered yet
            my name: Aria, meaning music,

air, country, loss, lioness. Meaning hope
            is not a thing with feathers—no,
hope is the country that makes us
            wingless beasts believe in flight

before pushing us down the cliff—
            we’re unaware we’ve fallen,
but we’re together still, dumb with joy,
            such ecstasy to taste the wind.

Aria Aber is the author of Hard Damage, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, the Kenyon Review, Narrative, and others. She has received fellowships from Dickinson House, Kundiman, NYU and the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing.