"One wonders if Gwen Stefani of the band No Doubt and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince know the meaning behind their freshly minted body hennas...While hennas may be all the rage, the meaning beyond the tradition goes much deeper. The ancient Indian art of body painting called Mehndi (actually Persian in origin), initially reserved for bridal ceremonies and spiritual occasions, has become the hot new way to adorn oneself without committing to a permanent tattoo or wearing jewelry." -- Aura Project ad
The mehndi is leaving my hands,
brown swirls dissolving into brown skin.
Somewhere you are traveling
through new architecture, celebrating
a companionate life in new cities.
If blind, you could see through your hands,
a universe etched in your palms. Your ankles
are rust, vines of buds and leaves. I envision
him leaning to the hotel tub, washing
the grime of the city from your feet, soap
separated from the stencil. Love's imprint
lasts long when the fingers
rejoice, when the body's art is treasure.
Sap travels beyond root, cones
can be rolled here or there, a technology.
Here West Village women henna
their breasts before marriage, etching
coarse veins onto skins, parlors
painting commerce from the sacred.
Riding the train in America, the thrush emerges
from water pools, orange chaff unconnected to the earth
growing, as if, without umbilical soils.
Do the roots dissolve through inebriation
like my henna lines growing wild flowers
at the tub? The mark of family is on the body
not the engagement ring suddenly removed at the sink
not in the route the scent of perfume takes to leave the day's sweat
but in the designs which intimate bequeathed blood.
When the liquid paint
hits skin, it is a cold
separation, the memory of hundreds
of daughters walking towards a foreign
house, parents looking askance, blurred.
They say: absence is a color, the deep
brown of life which is always receding.
Added: Monday, July 7, 2014 / From "Terrain Tracks" (New Rivers Press, 2006). Used with permission.
Purvi Shah inspires change as a non-profit consultant on gender, economics, and racial equity. She won the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Service Excellence Award for her leadership fighting violence against women. Her award-winning poetry book, Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), plumbs migrations and belongings while her chaplet, Dark Lip of the Beloved: Sound Your Fiery God-Praise (Belladonna, 2016), explores women and being. Miracle Marks (Curbstone Press), her new poetry collection on women and the sacred, is forthcoming in Fall 2019. During the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she directed Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight Asian American voices and experiences. She currently serves as a board member of The Poetry Project. Her favorite art practices are her sparkly eyeshadow and raucous laughter. Discover more at Purvo's twitter @PurviPoets or at her website.