that was exactly what it was


I dreamt of a shark in a small rectangular pool 

and somehow it rose out of the water with 

its sharp white teeth and it killed or was 

killed and it was somehow my fault 

because I had provoked and 

prodded it and now it was

huge and wouldn’t 

go away


and the EU envoy asked me: how many people 

did you talk to from the Panjshir


and I broke into the sweat of feeling found out

—two, I said randomly, and five who had 

information from their family or 

friends—and everything felt 

shaky because that was 

exactly what it was


and I woke and thought: should I have said six

would that have been better?

and now, four reasons to be okay

one—you deserve the edges of your day

the calm that comes from briefly

not thinking of other people


two—it’s okay

you will not make them disappear 

or cause them to immediately stumble


your attention is not like a prayer

not like the bread of life that 

makes them hunger 

when withheld


three—their feet are not that feeble 

and you are not their God, you do not 

need to hold them close like that


four—there is no how for most of your tasks


and the trees and the sky 

and the shelter of time 

how much had to come together to make this happen


do you see those golden squares 

their softened edges luminous against the wall 

as the sun throws its light in through the windows


see how this house, with its more than three stories

and the forethought not to close off the whole wall 

but to place glass and a cross-shaped divider


see how this all came together in this moment

when this iteration of the sun, on this day 

rose up over these trees that took maybe fifty years 

to become this high, but not so high that they would 

block out the light


and already these slanted patterns 

are fading, I wish I could take them with me


imagine this place with no houses, no city

this chair I’m sitting on not suspended seven metres 

above the ground, not looking out over a roundabout

that would not be here either

Martin van Biljert is a poet and novelist, who grew up in Iran, now lives in the Netherlands and in between worked as a humanitarian aid worker, diplomat, researcher and independent political analyst, mostly in Afghanistan—a country she still closely follows from afar.