Category: The Poppy Field Diary

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The Poppy Field Diary


Through the dancing poppies stole
A breeze most softly lulling to my soul
John Keats

“In Richard’s poetic, introspective first novel, after an Afghan woman marries for love in a culture of arranged marriages and multiple wives, she begins a lifelong journey of self-discovery . . . Richard concludes each chapter with haiku-like poems, but his prose also sings lyrically . . . Despite the meditative nature of the narrative, historical action continuously looms in the background–the Soviet collapse, factional warring, the rise of the Taliban, and the similarly timed attacks on the World Trade Center and mujahedeen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.”

“A highly personal story that mines the psychology of betrayal and forgiveness . . .” Kirkus Reviews

“The descriptive passages were outstanding, very vivid, and the reader feels certain that they reflect the author’s experiences. The author knows the culture of Afghanistan and presents it in a sympathetic manner, rather than in the judgmental fashion that one might expect from a Western observer. I feel that my review does not do justice to this book. It is easy to read, it is thought-provoking, and it will stir your emotions. It is absolutely a wonderful book!” 5 Stars, David Burnett for the Kindle Book Review

“I was drawn into this book from the first chapter.” 5 Stars, Samantha Dewitt for the Readers Favorite Review

exquisitely written . . . simply beautiful . . . I could not put it down . . . compelling . . . captivating . . . gripping and heartfelt . . . stunningly moving and poetic. Amazon Reader Reviews


The day the Taliban assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, I crossed the Khyber Pass from Pakistan in a fever. I do not remember much about that day. Two nights later, my husband and I followed the shortwave radio reports of the attack on the Americans. As their shining city burned, I listened wearily to the distant shouts of “Allahu Akbar” from the village in the valley below my cabin. The staccato of automatic weapons sang a familiar anthem to the greatness of our tribes as bold tracer bullets etched the dark night—the shooting stars of zealous fools.

My husband stood on the sill, his sturdy shoulders filling the door frame. I never dreamed there would be a time when I would loathe him. I never dreamed I would curse him and rail upon him and defy him. I never dreamed my oldest son would become a legend in the resistance or that I would stare into the muzzle of a Kalashnikov and wish for the flash of a hasty round. I never dreamed I would dine with the Kabul elite or feel indebted to my enemy. I never dreamed love was violent and cruel. I did not know passion and jealousy were unmerciful, like the roar and flame of war. I did not know forgiveness was such a weary journey.

I thought my life would be romantic. I thought I would squander idyllic seasons in my medieval valley, among my books, surrounded by my children and my grandchildren. My life did not follow the course of my dreams.

I was wrong to dream. I was wrong about many things. But most of all, I was wrong about love.


Little Sister

I miss you

When I heard of my cousin’s suicide, I went to my field and sat under a pine as the sun set over the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. By the light of a full moon, I wrote a verse to her. And as the Milky Way emerged on that brilliant night, I buried it among the poppies.

Twilight Sowing

I mourn you, little sister

I grieve for what we lost

Your modest alabaster 

Poured like milk

Before a ravenous dog


In early spring, the rain comes in torrents. The stream bordering my field swells and roars and gallops down the hillside, reckless and untamed. From the slope near the stream, you can hear rounded stones knocking together as the water hurtles past. The roar of the water muffles their banging, but the sound is unmistakable.

I have often thought of those stones. They did not begin their journey smooth and round. They began as jagged mountain rocks. As they moved season after season down our valley, their raw corners chipped away, and they became marvelously oval and, sometimes, perfect spheres. They were delightful to heft in the palm of your hand. Most were about the size of a man’s fist, and they were smooth, substantive, and oddly reassuring.

The smaller ones made fearsome weapons in a sling, and in the early days of the resistance, one of the village boys killed a stout Russian with just such a stone. I had no interest in killing Russians or in gathering stones for house foundations or for lining wells. But I loved the sound of their violent journey. I loved that they started their descent as one thing and became another. I tried to imagine them rolling along the bottom of the stream, driven by a relentless force.

They were much like me, caught in an unbridled deluge. Like me, they were becoming something different. Like me, they were more beautiful in their aging than they were in their awakening. And that, I suppose, best describes what happened to me the day I met my husband—the beginning of a chipping away of the ragged edges of my heart.