Samarkand Hotel

I once spent a few days in a hotel room in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. On the last evening before leaving for the border, a woman made me a pot of tea, and we had one of those chats you can only have when travelling. In the morning I got up from the sofa where I slept, left rolled up banknotes in her shoe, went downstairs for a coffee, and scribbled some lines…

A.H. Starlingsson
3 min readNov 30, 2021

I’m in the Samarkand Hotel

A knock on the door

High heels tapping in the hall

Long legs and haughty eyes

Hair curlers newly removed

Make up made up of defensive lines

Stepping uninvited into the room

In a hotel that is nobody’s home, facing empty dustbins across the road

A view anaesthised by the 10th floor


Was worried, confused, at first, when I turned the offer down

Her sweater already tossed carelessly behind

Had a lot to lose, I saw, in her frown

I asked her to make tea and she smiled a little, resigned

But put my hand on her heart to feel it dance

And then shrugged: “not being kissed is a nice romance

And when you get the chance...”

She watched me pick up her sweater from the chair

“I was nearly married, long ago

Well, before… Someone from the Taliban”

She whispered, as she pulled herbs from her handbag, cheap copy Dior

And put the top back on the whiskey, while I

Slipped her top back on and she
slipped off her

Shoes and sighed at the softness of the carpet

“And I had a father I never met, nor brothers, who did not survive the war

I was one child, maybe tonight I could be


I never was, a sister, not your lover,” she soothed, slowly

And this time I saw her eyes were deep, as the tea purred

From the full pot into the cup

And I spilled the biscuits and she sat opposite, her heels on my

Knees as I massaged her soles

And she smiled, a third time, at the memory she said she would have

Of the brother she had met, she could remind herself of, when left behind

And was struck by that majestic, empty feeling of


(At this moment I paused

Before my morning coffee arrived

and put down my fearless

Pen, my mind at one with her Safi*)

I only know one place in Samarkand

A hotel room in which I sat

With a prostitute from the other side

Of a knock at the door, with whom I sipped

Tea fragranced of mountains in Afghanistan, from where she came

And when she walked away in the morning’s yawn

I realised

She had shown me that our wall was a door, after all

And the border to cross to Afghanistan

Was not the real border I crossed, then

*Safi —

(Arabic: صافي‎) is a name of Arabic origin meaning "purity," and is employed by many Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a "last name" to refer to their tribal lineage within the Safi tribe, based in north-eastern Afghanistan.


“For today’s Poetics prompt I want you to write a poem that includes one line, and one line only, from ABBA’s only number-one hit, Dancing Queen. The lyrics are listed below. The poem can be any form, length, and about any topic….as long as you include, word for word, one line and one line only, from Dancing Queen! Here’s to you, Bjorn!”



A.H. Starlingsson

—dispatches from Ukraine🌲currently writing "Distant Taps The Woodpecker," contact: starlingsson@gmail.com_