Category: The Poppy Field Diary

Poppy Field Excerpts



My husband proved to be a reasonable man, willing to wait for me. I was ready, but Mother said I should not marry until I was seventeen. The wait frustrated me. I did not understand, in that tender season, the work of hope. Time was my enemy. I carefully marked the passage of days in my diary, ticking them off at first light. Before the day had begun, I had marked it off as completed. That should have been a beautiful year for me. I should have cherished my final season with Mother. But I did not cherish that priceless moment. I wished it along like an impatient child. That was a thoughtless season in my life—when nothing mattered but my dream. I did not know that love was selfless. I did not know how to serve love. I thought that love should serve me.

True Love

My mother, cleaning up the remains of our little tea party, glanced up at me. “True love,” she said with a wry smile.

“True love,” I said with contempt.

And we began to laugh. And the rain pounded the roof, and I imagined my husband riding home in a miserable downpour. My mother threw a teacup into the fireplace and it shattered, spraying the room with fragments. I followed her lead and hurled a cup of my own, and we laughed until we could not stand. We laughed while the storm thundered down the valley. We laughed at men and guns and dim-witted girls and foreigners. We lay on our backs and held one another’s hand and laughed at the ceiling. We laughed until she begged me to stop. And I never loved her more than in that moment.


I had not yet possessed a lover and had no understanding of jealousy. I had not yet been consumed by passion’s obsession. I had not yet owned love or been owned by love, but I was beginning to understand. I understood, as a child understands, that something that was mine should not be taken by another. And though my husband was not yet mine, in my tender heart I knew that I would never share my lover. I would rather die than share him, I thought. And though I resented the men’s hypocrisy, I was beginning to understand the rage of betrayal. I understood that love could not be shared. I understood why a man could be driven to mindless violence when his honor was shamed by his wife’s disloyalty. I understood the humiliation of shared love.


My Awakening

She took my hand and placed it over her heart, and I felt its warm, persistent beat on my palm. It seemed as if life itself were calling me into something grand and eternal and mystifying—as if I were part of something beyond my control, as if love were an endless, flowing stream, clear and fresh and clean, and I were drawn helpless in its irreversible tide. And on that crisp, cold morning as the sun crested over the eastern mountain range, and my feet were scrubbed pink, and my uncorseted breasts pressed against my mother’s warmth, I felt the curious, simultaneous mystery of overwhelming sadness and boundless joy. I had no words, but in that moment I felt pure and clean and holy.


I once watched a little boy catch quail near my village. He set simple traps made from woven cane baskets at the edge of a millet field and lay in the standing grain, waiting for the birds to discover the seed under his traps. He lay there for hours until a fat quail entered one of his traps. When he pulled the fine kite string he had tied to a stick, the trap was sprung. The captured quail flapped violently in the overturned basket, but the boy remained prone in the field. Finally, the bird tired and lay panting in the hot soil. The boy rose, walked quietly to the trap, and carefully lifted its edge. The bird was exhausted and had no struggle remaining. The boy reached in, caught the bird, pinched off its head, and slipped it into a small sack tied to his waist. There was a covey of birds nearby, but the boy’s crafty movements did not disturb them. By the end of the day, his sack was full of quail.

I suppose that none of those little birds realized they were trapped until it was too late. Their panic was short-lived and vain. I remembered that young boy while I watched Jahangir crush the last hope in the heart of that little horse. I remembered the boy’s wise, patient cunning. And I wondered if there was some mysterious skill passed down from father to son in an ancient ritual hidden from the eyes of women.