“You may approach”
Permission in shrill from the unmanned one.
And I, the well-trained bride, am cold, paler
than the bellied silken desert tent,
trembling in fear and readiness to love.

Do not remove your veil until you’re told,
They said to me, and wriggle up the bed.
Not ungainly; watch how serpent moves and
undulate, like her, like our dance of hips,

bellies and breasts. He is so fine, they said.
Every beauty is in your husband, his
limbs are smooth marble; in his pouch almonds
lie cool in your hand, he has strength and grace.

And his great column rises up to heaven!
And you will ride his column, little one,
in bliss! Remembering this, heat rises.
I wriggle up, covered with a sheet of shame.

I wriggle up the bed, and reach his side.
And close my eyes, anticipate his kiss.
But he calls out, two servants run inside -
they hold me, none too gently; part my thighs.
And pain! Tearing, then just one cold, sharp thrust.
From women’s quarters I can hear the sobs
as I shriek – stifle it– I may not speak -
but suddenly remember childhood’s end.

For I am the holy one, the special
bride, bred for the breeding of powerful sons.
Picked out in infancy, I’m set aside:
great riches for father, and family’s pride.

I’m shut away much younger than the rest;
haram, in veils, no village boys for me.
Age seven came a delicate surgery
with tempered, sharpest knife – only the best.
Then expert stitching, with the finest silk.
You should be grateful! So my mother said,
They sewed me up with string, ‘twas all they had.
I couldn’t walk for weeks – and how I cried!

They leave the stitches in. Some husbands like
to cut them all away, once bedding’s done.
The knowledge that you came to them intact
is worth a fortune to their manly pride.

Other men like to leave the threads in place
like purse-strings, drawing them aside to spend,
then, with good husbandry, fastening tight
when they’re to go away, and leave you home.

I danced for him today. As sunset came,
I danced my eagerness, his latest bride.
I slapped my foot down hard on dirt-packed floor
to ring the little bells, and swayed my hips.
Undulated my belly for his eyes;
in calculated way, let veils slide.
My breasts like apricots, my teasing flesh -
confectionary woman, good to bite.

Now alone in darkness, I see his eyes
twinkle at me, and white teeth broad in smile.
Emboldened now, I climb astride his chest;
while stroking cheek, twine legs around his neck.

So I will be a bridge to him, like Nut
stretching herself to shelter us at night.
My syrup-fed white flesh is woman-weak,
but dancer’s muscles lie below; I still
his protests with my tender murmuring -

Yes yes yes yes ooh yes yes YES OH YES OH YES yes yes yes

- my husband’s face is black, like polished wood.
His heavenly column did arise, at last,
but now he’s still for ever – oh -
his eyes protrude like grapes –

I would not close them if I could.

They will behead me now, or stone me dead,
of course. But I will flee this tent tonight;
cross star-harsh desert into wilderness.
Where owls and harpies, uncut girls will fly
from my womb! But tonight, it is enough.

And I am whole.

May peace be upon you.

©September 2003, Geraldine Charles