In Memoriam Asifa Bano
Mother went to fetch the water
while father herded the goats.
On the pasture close to the forest,
I watch over our horses, each named after flowers.
I drift among them, feel the heat of their breath,
brush my fingers through their thick manes,
the way mother strokes my hair before bedtime.
In my purple dress, I’m like a mountainside wildflower,
strong and tall, hard against the nipping wind.
A stream close by muscles its way through rocks.
I can hear the grass breathe, the forest whisper my name,
Asifa it calls.
The horse I’m handling raises its head from the grass,
pricks its ears forward, swishes its tail.
A huff from the muzzle of a horse
is a language lost to children, so the elders say.
I scratch the side of its neck, kiss the top of its nose.
It’s still early afternoon—the sky Corydalis blue.
I hear my name again rush out of the forest
like a sudden wind that bursts through a door.
The stream clatters over stones.
The birds are so quiet, the horses, restless.
Maybe my mother is now gathering wood for the fire,
calling my name to come home.
The air is thick with moss and grass,
the horses sniff this too, shaking their heads,
as if asking to leave.
I pluck a purple wildflower from the ground,
purple like my dress, pat the horse on the hind leg.
Time to move I whisper in its ear, taking it by the girdle
towards the other horses, looking straight ahead.
I hear the forest take a deep breath
and a crow repeatedly scream.
A chill bites my fingers.
The grass bows with the wind.
Stephen Byrne is an Irish chef and writer currently living outside Chicago. His first collection ‘Somewhere but not Here’ won the RL Poetry Award, 2016 International category and was a finalist in the International Book Awards. He has been published worldwide in places such as Warscapes, Indian Review, Tuck Magazine, Rise Up Review, RædLeafPoetry-India, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology and many others.