Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz nomads survive in one of the most remote, high-altitude,
bewitching landscapes on Earth. It’s a heavenly life – and a living hell.
– Michael Finkel, “Stranded on the Roof of the World,”
National Geographic, February 2013
Who knew a world where no one’s ever seen
a tree and most kids die before they’re five?
There’s no road to bring a doctor in –
or vegetables or books or news below
these untamed camps at 14,000 feet.
Parents swathe their pain in opium,
find little joy in much of anything.
They’re off again through late June snow
with herds of sheep and goats, with cranky yaks
bearing everything they own. Four times
a year they search for rarities of grass,
one week above a freeze. Suddenly,
I’m a kid caught in Jersey snow, shoveling
a path across three drifting roads to find
the court beneath the playground’s white.
I need to break from winter’s bind
by carving one clear lane to net and board.
Even if clunky boots slow my glide
and raw hands fail to score, I know
survival’s here: in the joy of play and …
Memories freeze. I’m teetering on
the rooftop of the world where vicious winds
could hurl my ball across the glaciered rills
and people dream of cars. Here a Kyrgyz girl
survives by chasing scraggly hens. A boy
crayons his life with colors cracked and bleached.
Inside a yurt, a toddler barely breathes.
Mothers cry for roads. Summer snow still stings.
I need to find this journalist who knows
a horse costs fifty sheep and yaks can drown
each year in rivers snow-swelled and mean.
I need to ask if nomad girls have learned
to read or smile. Do boys fly off the roof?
Did that toddler die? I need to know
if he can gauge how many shovels
it would take to make the dying stop.
First published in The Axe Factory, 2018.
Blissfully retired in Clackamas, Oregon, Carolyn Martin is a lover of gardening and snorkeling, feral cats and backyard birds, writing and photography. Her poems have appeared in more than 175 journals throughout North America, Australia, and the UK. Since the only poem she wrote in high school was red-penciled "extremely maudlin," Carolyn is amazed she has continued to write. Currently, she serves as book review editor of the Oregon Poetry Association. Find out more at www.carolynmartinpoet.com.