When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.
– – –
I’ll make a tattoo from my lover’s blood
and shame every rose in the green garden.
– – –
Unlucky you who didn’t come last night,
I took the bed’s hard wood post for a man.
These couplets are three examples of the deliciously rebellious landays of the Pashtun women. Landays are poems of two lines, sometimes saucy, gritty, or downright vulgar. We might not expect such poems from Afghani and Pakistani women, especially because the oral tradition of landays goes back to at least the late 19th century. Perhaps it is because the poems are sung, not written down, that the women say what they feel.
Employing the general themes of war, love, separation, homeland, and grief in only 22 syllables, the poems of these Pashtun women are models of economy and candor.
Read a substantial article on landays, written by Eliza Griswold here, in Poetry Magazine, that explores the people, the history, and the circumstances of landays and includes many more compelling couplets.
Learn about the The University of Arizona Poetry Center’s exhibition of the work of photographer Seamus Murphy, Shame Every Rose: Images from Afghanistan. Murphy, the husband of Eliza Griswold, chronicles the landay in images of the Pashtun people.