The town’s big bazaar is really two bazaars:
Verkhnii, the oldest, a sentinel on the hill
since the days of Stalin, some say,
all the way back to the ’30s, when Kazakhstanis died
by the millions in a land of plenty,
forced to farm what they had wandered
since before the Silk Road.

The newer, lower bazaar is called Ozero—Lake—
for until a few years ago, shallow water stood
where rusty tin roofs and blue and white tarpaulins
stretch now in a defiant but futile attempt
to provide shade from the Shymkent sun.
Nothing should grow in this semi-arid desert
except wormwood, shepherd’s bag, and camel’s thorn,
but it’s hard to sell those at market.

The Syr Darya was called Yaksart centuries ago
when it was first plumbed, primed, and pumped
to feed the canals that fed the fields,
but the Soviets wanted more than to feed
the people. They wanted cheap clothes.
Now the thirsty mouths of cotton
suck the Celestial Mountains’ glaciers dry
while hundreds of kilometers downstream
the Aral Sea vanishes before everyone’s eyes.
It’s no trick. It’s simple science
and poetry: ships now ride the sand
hours from the rapidly receding shore.
There’s hardly enough left to fish for metaphors.

This poem may be read in its entirety in my chapbook Lake, and Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land, winner of the Standing Rock Cultural Arts 2010 Open Poetry Chapbook Competition, available for order here!


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