Ode to Kaija-Liisa

Written on the occasion of the news of the assassination of friends Kaija-Liisa Martin and Seija Järvenpää on 24 July 14 by men on a motorcycle as they taxied to work in Herat, Afghanistan. (Their first names are pronounced “kaya lisa” and “sae-ya”.) Kaija Liisa had served in Afghanistan since 1998 as a community developer, a role that had included training illiterate women to operate their own businesses, and improving the quality of life in seven villages. At the time of her death, she had just returned from her Scandinavian homeland to oversee projects in the city of Herat, projects such as a successful mental health clinic for a generation traumatized by war. She had lived in Herat since 2006, well adapted to the culture, well versed in the language, and well loved by Afghans but for the ones who ended her life. 

The poem mentions the names of others who have died in Afghanistan, or spent the prime of their years there, in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Most were personally known by the author. 

The poem is in irregular length stanzas and written after the manner of John Milton’s “English heroic verse without rhyme” at usually ten syllables per line.

You are worthy, O Lamb, our Lord and God.
In the midst of earth’s wolves we follow you
And sing along with those fully alive,
Above in our true home. We trust in you.

Ah, Afghanistan, if only you knew
The value of the things you throw away.
But in the age to come, not long from now,
You will. Yes, you shall know. Like waking from
Dark slumber you will see the one you pierced:
A woman ruling ten cities, regal
As a queen, crowned with Lapland auroras,
Terrible in beauty, innocent in
Heart, overflowing with love, seated on
A throne dispensing coronations to
The broken ones you trampled in your land.
Oh yes, Afghanistan, I am quite sure
You will see this, everyone who knew her,
Even the assassins compelled by grace
To come trembling out of their hiding place

But for now, Kaija-Lisa Martin waits
Reclining in picnic pleasure in a
Valley so green it would burn right through us
In its holiness should we behold it.
There she lifts her lake-blue eyes to tall peaks
Raising a cup of joy to Tom and Dan
Who, on yonder trail, amidst waterfalls
Hike further up and further in on a
Perfect Pamir mountain, ten times the size
The ones they climbed on earth, and thrice as fair

She splashes barefoot in the laughing brook
And laughs along with the living water
Washing over them. And here comes Doctor
Wilson, touching her shoulder father-like
And both turn around to behold Gordon
Broad smiled and strong, beard taking in the sun
As brilliantly as glad engineer Al –
Though we just barely catch a glimpse of him
For joy compels his chariot onward
Horse-powered, golden flamed, chrome reflecting
Eyes bright, intent on exploring every
Hidden path and stream of grace dynamic
His heart-dreamed contraption can take him to

And look! There’s Erik and Eeva counting
The sparrows in loving tabulation
Of the love their Maker has for each one
There’s Seija, Kaija’s effervescent friend
Who came with her abruptly hand-in-hand
Releasing counted birds to fill the sky
While Richard lifts his voice, “Watch how they fly!”
The children laugh and imitate their wings
While Gayle takes up each little one and sings
And Doctor Jerry, searching nearby field
Finds curing secrets that the flowers yield
And Martha – Martha? Where is she again?
Oh, she’s gone to lean on her Beloved
Where the orchards rise and the spice slopes end

And see, beyond and upriver, a host
Of many others from all four corners
Of the earth, gathered in davidic dance
To tambourines and angels, complete with
Afghan robaab and tabla, and florid
Henna, and song, and pomegranates that
Refresh the soul even by their mere smell
Aroma of therapeutic graces
Amidst leaves whose essence (should you bruise them)
Heals nations – even yours, O thorny rose
Who pierced our friend’s hand as she brought you near
To nurture hope within your blackened stem

O Kaija-Liisa, forgive us our grief
The veil of this present darkness makes it
Hard to be as content as you are, and
As clear-eyed. Find our tears in your river
And send them back as rainfall upon the
Thankless land we love: Afghanistan, where
The grain heads bend their slender, fragile stems
In silent prophetic affirmation
That everyone, both high and low, will bow

~ km

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