Poems from Central Asia

Samarkand 01

Train to Samarkand

The train jerks constantly
making it difficult to write;
the dancer weaves her hands
to tell the story of a song.

It is a language I do not know,
can only take in the swirls and curls
of the womens’ bodies as they flow;
can only grasp at meaning.

Her hair as it swept around me
in her embrace,
soft and totally enveloping;
I kiss her cheek.
Tomorrow she will go much further south
Than I dare.

And not really wanted,
She dances still before me,
A red scarf against her white skin,
Her long black hair falling down
Her long black dress.
For a brief moment,
I held her,
And flew towards my youth


There are so many birds here.
Outside, yesterday and today,
All their noise suddenly stops
And there is silence.
How in tune with each other they must be!

Outside the tomb of Bahauddin Nakhsbandi, Bukhara

A girl in a yellow tunic
Stands thigh deep in green grass;
Schoolchildren in black and white
Weed the paths outside their schools.
Plump red roses appear occasionally.

The pool of Lyab al Hauz, Bukhara

Learn to float in yourself.
Do not be concerned with how you might appear to others.
Watch and learn.
Savour your tea,
Green tea,
Feel it warm you and the sweat it makes.
Let the time go but be aware of its passing.
See all the colours lit in the sun
And the laughing faces of the old dancers.
Enjoy their gestures.

Near the Aral Sea

I am the barren wasteland.
Hot rock, cold rock.
Nothing can grow.
The seed lies alone, cannot root,
And then is plucked away.
In my distance a river giving a little green but then limping, drained,
To a dying sea.

The Savitsky Museum, Nukus

My memory is like the land.
A few flowers in the salt.
Even the next day, there is only a list:
A bull with black eyes.
Picasso like clowns and a drunkard
On a winter morning.
Old women after their party, one crone coming down the stairs
To where they have fallen asleep on each other.
A sinuous wooden dancer,
A face emerging from a rock,
A man crouched into himself,
Uzbek peasants lining the fields.
These painters and sculptors,
Émigrés from a regime where their Modernism became a crime,
Waking again in a different light,
Waking to a different sun that finally allowed
Their vision to go on.

Train journey back to Tashkent

We cross the Kizzle Kum.
All is desert, an emptiness broken only by
The solitary cars on the long road we parallel.
At one stop, naked boys jump into the irrigation ditch and swim.
It is now early morning. The land is greener and towns approach.
There have been no camels.

Anthony Smith