This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Diana Khoi Nguyen. About the poem, Nguyen writes: “Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan, is a game in which teams on horseback compete to gain possession of a headless animal carcass (typically a goat) and bring it to a scoring area.”


A brother fastens his helmet. His son does the same. 
He who has fifty horses backs no one 
but a son, a warlord says from his warm compound
where the warlord is running for vice president. 
Time is incestuous this way. 
1979: the Soviets shot each hoof, every head. Death 
saw no danger in being nude. Then the Taliban: 
they allowed the game, but rode the mares in summer 
until they rode no more. She who is not consoled 
lasts longer than the fever of a horse 
whose teeth flare out in prayer, Khyber blade 
in the crosshatch hands of her rider, hands from a life 
of whipping. Whose blood is on the ground is she 
whose god is a wrestler who trains 
beneath the rising moon whose rider scythes the harvest. 
A horse can nudge a man with her chest,
come down without bending her knees. She knows what he wants
she knows what he wants her to do.


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