Title: At the Border

Author: Stephanie de Montalk

In: Sport 22: Autumn 1999

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, March 1999

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Verse Literature

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Sport 22: Autumn 1999

Stephanie de Montalk — At the Border

page 101

Stephanie de Montalk

At the Border

We arrived carrying carpets
wearing beads bought north of Kabul—
simple green glass treasure—
we paid the price the nomad was asking.

An official looked at our papers
through the distance
between us

we saw the long rolls of our carpets
and the gleam of our beads
in his eyes.

We were at the frontier town
of Shir Khan
on the Soviet Union Border

the monarch
had been deposed

the airline

and we were leaving
the warp and weft of the mountains
the wheel tracks in the gravel

page 102

the thin ice-blue rivers
and the chiselled hills of the canyons.

Our beads were the simple green glass
of tribesmen

our carpets vivid and warm
red with the roots of a madder plant
brown with ox blood

blue with the juice of an indigo shrub
gold with an ambient yellow.

They had been crafted
and dyed
in the old way

and we had carried them
tightly rolled to our backs

since the moment
of the narrow street
and mud house
in the city
of the wheels
and saddles
of the Mongol invasion.

The colours had been unsteady
in the heat
and left marks on our clothes

page 103

but the system of medallions
and geometric patterns
which was called
as they were woven
in the hamlets
and isolated winters
of women sheltering livestock

were tightly knotted and calm

and the bands and guard stripes
of their borders

were harmonious and distinct.

A ranchman near the Garden of Babur
had wanted to buy one
a tourist at the cliff of the Buddha
had admired them

and in the Bololo Canyon
and at Bande-e Amir where bedrock
colours the five lakes milky
through green
we had slept on them.

We would have boiled rhubarb
cut from the hills
eaten slim cakes
meagre with flour

watched fire-blackened rocks
and the wild eyes of sheep
pass before us
before we parted with our possessions.

page 104

The official gestured.
The fan hummed.

He gestured

and gazed through the distance
between us.

He had the long rolls of our carpets
and the gleam of our beads in his eyes.

A man in a suit was writing a letter
a brocaded cap caught the light
and an instrument played by a boy
was a quiet voice in the corner.