Two women walk past the huge cavity where one of the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan, known to locals as the "Father Buddha," used to stand, June 17, 2012. The monumental statues were built in A.D. 507 and 554 and were the largest statues of standing Buddha on Earth until the Taliban dynamited them in 2001. Afghanistan. Sgt. Ken Scar / Public domain
The Buddhas of Bamiyan
The pair of great stone statues,
taller than thirty ferengi soldiers
standing each atop the other’s shoulders,
if such a trick can be imagined,
were guardians of our Valley
for longer than my people
In summer’s heat our children ran circles
round the statues’ feet to make a breeze,
held themselves stiff like tent pegs,
then rolled in and out of the crevices
between the monstrous cold stone toes
Big toe, middle toe, pinky toe.
The old men say their fathers’ fathers’ said
the statues were faced with gold once.
Gods brought from the East, then forgotten.
The old women say the statues were lovers,
who, for their sin, were cocooned
in the sandstone cliffs.
Near enough to hear the other’s heart beat
but never again
I wanted to see stone yearning toward stone.
That was my sin.
One morning I stripped off the blue burka
with its eye slits
that made my world dim and narrow,
looked upon the golden cliffs
and understood the majesty of the faceless Gods.
I will carry the dishonour of my act and that light
within me forever
like a black lamb and a white one.
In the fighting season
when the Taliban came
we ran with our children
into the painted caves
deep behind the statues.
Hide what you love.
They will smash it first
to kill you faster.
After the victory,
they took our men away
and declared the statues
an affront to piety.
The ritual cleansing of the Valley
with tanks, bombs on long sticks, artillery
lasted twenty-five days.
When the stones of the statues were dust
in our mouths and eyes
and brought nine fat cows to slaughter.
Lottie Erikson studied English Literature at Tulane University in New Orleans. Her first job after college was as Poet-in-Residence working with institutionalized populations in Louisiana. Most of her adult life has been spent living and working in other countries as an agricultural development specialist. She retired from Islamabad, Pakistan to the mountains of North Carolina in 2017.
The Ekphrastic Review
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