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.


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.