A Simple Tale
Bamiyan, Afghanistan, March 12, 2001
In this stark country where light can be yellow
it is difficult to measure time.
Bare mountains, seemingly carved, overlook
ancient sea beds called deserts.
The Silk Road, or a tributary of it, drifted
this way past the cliff face –
for a generation men on rickety scaffolding
worked at the sandstone
to fashion the image deep into the cliff’s face
of a fifty metre high statue.
The mountain became grotto to the Buddha
homaged by 1,700 years of dawns
and sunsets until the coming of the Iconoclasts
in a drought-stricken land.
In two unhurried afternoons, much like any other,
between the braying of donkeys,
with mortar fire and dynamite, they turned to
dust and rubble the false idol.
The last piece to dissolve before dusk which is
the traditional time for prayer –
was the impassive smile of the Buddha, and 500
tons of face fell under the blast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Oliver is a trans-Tasman poet based in Sydney. His recently published book is titled, Night of Warehouses: New and Selected Poems 1978 – 2000, HeadworX, 2001. This selection covers five volumes of poetry and spans two decades.