In the Shadows of History — Neval Pektas

We are 35,
the same age you will be
when you see
our pictures in a book.

You will want to unearth our common history
to learn why our hair is parted every which way
braided down in sections,
brushing our shoulders.

You will inhale dissipated stories,
our souls never fossilized.
We will seem so serious.

Did we carry our children on our shoulders, on our hips?
Did we scoop water, shovel the earth,
and plant grape seeds
the way you father told you we might have?

Impossibility will not glimmer.

Only this,
the note about our picture will read:

“The Kurdish type established after studying 332 individuals (62 women) can be summarized as follows: The physiognomy of the Kurds breathes savagery: Their characteristics are hard, their eyes, of a fierce brightness, are small and sunken under the orb. The men are most commonly dark, talk and lean and have uncommon strength. They wear hardly anything except for a mustache and they cover their heads with a turban that is sometimes of gigantic proportions. Their step is firm, they hold their heads up with pride, and their look has a supreme arrogance. They do not laugh or talk much.”
(Ernest Chantre, Les Kurdes: Equisse Historique et Ethnographique, 1897
quoted in Kurdistan, In the Shadows of History, by Susan Meiselas, pg 6)

Your eyes
will not be sunken like ours.
You will wonder, are you only part us
or not us at all?

If only we could speak.


Neval Pektas is a Kurdish-American writer originally from Turkey. Her writing explores Kurdish and Muslim identity in an American context. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. Neval’s non-fiction work has appeared in the Washington Post.