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"Poppies" by Mira Martin-Parker

 

 

 

If a friend of yours needed help, would you sit around and do nothing?

If a good pal of yours—someone you knew from way back—was in trouble, and you knew it, would you turn your back?

 

          When I was a little girl, my dad owned a rug shop. He used to travel to Iran to buy carpets. He specialized in tribal pieces. The Gabbeh was his favorite. They’re woven by a nomadic tribe called the Qashqai. He loved their bright colors, and naïve, almost childlike style.

 

          When my parents divorced, he closed down his store and moved to Iran to study the Qashqai.

         

          He came back a year later with an Iranian wife.

 

 

The other day I heard a man being interviewed on the radio.

 

“We were flying from Iran to Canada—my son is Canadian—but someone on the plane got sick and they had to make an emergency landing in Puerto Rico. We didn’t have a visa to enter the United States, so they brought us to an immigration detention center. Then they sent us to Texas and put us in us in another immigration detention center.

 

“It used to be a prison.

 

“They make my son sleep alone in a cell next to a bathroom at night. He is only nine.”

 

          “Your dad has a lot of Middle Eastern sanskaras,” my mother used to say. “He must have been an Arab in his last incarnation.”

 

          It was true. My dad behaved like a Bedouin, and we lived like nomads.

 

 

Recently they covered a story in the news about five Israelis who were standing across the Hudson River, in Liberty State Park, filming the planes as they flew into the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11. Each time a plane hit they all cheered and high-fived each other.

 

A woman saw it all from her kitchen window. She called the police and they caught them. The driver (Sivan Kurzberg, age 23) immediately got angry and began yelling.

 

“We are Israelis. We are not your problem—your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.”

 

It turned out they were living here posing as art students and working for a company called Urban Moving Systems.

 

They found in their possession: multiple passports, $4,700 in cash stuffed in a sock, and several maps of Manhattan (with certain key sites highlighted).

 

It is believed that Urban Moving Systems was a front for the Mossad (immediately after the arrests, the company closed and the owner fled to Israel).

 

They held them in jail for few weeks, then let them go.

 

 

          When I was little we ate our meals sitting around a brass Turkish tray. We all held hands while my dad said grace. He thanked God for our health and for our  food. He prayed for everyone we knew and he prayed for peace.

 

          It was a real grace. He didn’t just blindly repeat words, he actually meant what he said.

 

 

I heard a man on the radio explain that this level of violence is not unusual in Afghanistan (nine members of the same family dead, 35 others injured). The U.S. bombs villages all the time.

 

Soldiers forced news photographers to delete footage of the blast.

 

          At night we slept on futon beds. The whole floor of our studio apartment was a sea of bodies. Dad, Shirin, and the baby slept on the other side of the          

          bookshelf. Elija and Noah slept in the isle. And Chandra and I slept beneath the front windows.

 

          In the morning, we folded up our blankets and stacked them neatly outside the bathroom door.

 

One day, not long after 911, I walked into a small carpet shop near downtown. Like all carpet shops, it had a jewelry case near the front door full of heavy silver necklaces and earrings, and long strands of lapis and amber beads. I was admiring a necklace through the glass, when an old woman came up to help me. She had slate grey eyes and was wearing a shawl over her shoulders. She wanted very much to sell me the necklace and insisted that I try it on. She even offered to give it to me at half price if I paid cash.

 

Then I did something stupid, I asked if she was from Afghanistan. She looked at me and at once her eyes went cold.

 

She walked away and left me standing there with the necklace on and the case wide open.

 

When I passed by a month later the store had closed down.

 

          Every now and then dad would take one of us kids into town with him while he took care of business. He would throw a few old kilims in the trunk of his car  and we’d spend the day driving around West Hollywood visiting his carpet dealer buddies.

 

          At lunchtime he would take us to see his best friend, Wali. Wali owned a huge warehouse full of carpets just off Wilshire Boulevard, in the Miracle Mile district.

 

 

After 9/11, the U.S. hired Afghan warlords to take care of the Taliban. In one village they herded them all into shipping containers then stood outside and shot at them with machine guns. They left the men inside—the living and the dead together—for days in the hot sun. Those that survived were sent off to a prison somewhere.

 

We don’t know where.

 

Fifteen minutes of no-touch torture (gloves, goggles, and earmuffs) can result in complete mental breakdown.

 

 

 

          Under a large white drop-cloth , just inside the roll-up gates of his warehouse, Wali kept a 1956 Cadillac limousine that used to belong to the King of                      

         

          Afghanistan. In every way the car looked as if it belonged to a king. There wasn’t a ding in its massive chrome fenders or a scratch in its coal-black paint. The seats were big as theater couches and done in plush gray velvet, and both the dashboard and the rear paneling were made of solid mahogany. In the back there was a bar with an elaborately carved crystal decanter on top, and tucked inside the front passenger-side door was a hidden compartment just large enough for the bodyguard’s gun.

 

 

 

          There was also a small cream-colored1960s Mercedes SL parked next to the limousine. It belonged to the king’s son. There were three bullet holes in the rear  fender. He was assassinated inside. I stayed away from that car.

 

 

I like to come in early to work. I settle into my cubicle, put my lunch in my food drawer, comb my hair, powder my nose, then I turn on my computer.

 

My homepage is the company’s intranet site. Off to the side they list their recent press releases, below that they offer a few industry highlights, and at the very bottom they post the top news stories of the day.

 

I don’t like to read them, but I feel compelled to.

 

          There were five of us kids, three brothers, two sisters. We each had a different mother.

 

          Dad had a violent streak—he fought with his women and he fought with us. Usually the utilities were disconnected and there was no food in the house.

 

          We all dropped out of school as soon as we were old enough and started working full-time.

 

          Once we saved up enough money, we moved out.

 

 

They interviewed an American soldier last night on the radio. He can’t sleep anymore. He dreams about the women and children he killed. They were trying to run away from their homes to escape the bombing.

 

But unlike the rest of us, Noah didn’t move out. He just stopped coming home.

 

 

          They also interviewed the soldier’s mother. He calls her at night with a gun in his mouth.

         

          The other night I dreamed I saw Noah. I was driving along the freeway, heading towards the city, and I happened to glance over into the car next to me. There  he was, riding in the backseat of a late model Buick. When he saw me he laughed. Then all of his gangster friends looked over and laughed at me, too. They were driving fast, and they swerved to try and hit me.

 

 

          Then I woke up.

 

 

The story about the Israeli high-fivers was first covered in The Forward, the oldest Jewish newspaper in the United States. Nothing became of it.

 

They were going to publish a piece on it in The Nation magazine, but it was pulled at the last minute.

 

Noah didn’t live far from me, maybe fifteen minutes away. But I hadn’t seen him in years.

 

I didn’t want to.

 

He had a problem.

 

 

The Taliban banned drugs and as a result opium production was dramatically reduced.

 

I used to have three brothers.

One had a problem.

Now I have two.

 

 

Since the U.S. has taken over in Afghanistan, cultivation is up 90%.

 

 

*Previously Published

Fall 2009, Yellow Medicine Review

 

Mira Martin-Parker recently completed an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University.

Her work has appeared in various publications, including the Istanbul Literary Review, North Dakota 

Quarterly, Mythium, and Zyzzyva.