In Afghanistan the ancient sport of buzkashi
is played by men on horseback
and the decapitated carcass of a goat.
The object is to toss the cadaver
into a circle drawn in dust.
It is called the Circle of Justice.
They whip and beat each other
to make it there, heels digging
into the heaving sides
of the beasts below them.
Spectators smoke opium and hashish
while children run bets to bookies.
They all hope the goat-flesh will last
as the men tear it roughly
from each other’s bloody hands.

*

Under the former regime, the game
was called ‘immoral’ and banned.
But now that the Taliban is gone,
replaced by U.S. tanks and troops,
there is money in buzkashi.
Warlords and tycoons created
in the moral vacuum of war
pull men from shanty towns
and into the ring, mounted
gladiators with a brutal glory
it is hard to fathom.
Working for tips and favor,
the riders are grateful to trade
parched fields for this savage arena.

*

Even games are stories we tell
to quiet the sounds of our weeping souls.
In the performance of defeat–
itself a form resistance–they say
Genghis Kahn and his Mongol men
once snatched livestock this way,
thieving at full gallop.
So Afghan villagers learned the same.
Hooves beating one worn path
between occupier and occupied,
the terror of bleating goats
and the murder of men between them.
That is the history of this sport–
another pastime that plays at battle.
How dearly we cling to the worst in us.

*

The men compete in a violent frenzy,
mistaking abandon for freedom.
But in the end,
there is no justice for the goat,
headless and torn and later eaten,
that much is obvious.
There is no justice for the men,
having no other way to build
assurances in an unsure world
without this, the tossing of flesh
for the amusement of tyrants.
There is only justice for the horse,
whipped but prized above all else,
for he has won wars
which men are always
losing.

***

Images from Afghanistan, December 2009: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/12/afghanistan_december_2009.html