If I danced, it wasn’t because I wanted to please him.
What happens when I use my limbs in that way
isn’t something I can quite explain
to those who use mere words to speak.
If I knew grit and dirt once,
I do know sweat and ill-gained jewels now.
If I move, I have an idea of where I’m going.
Jangling pearl tassels on a high forehead,
rich crimson velvet folds that leap and curve
to trace the hips of a careless beauty,
rubies that replace the worth of women—
He offered me anything.
Let his eye linger on my swaying hips;
his unapproachable step-daughter.
Let the painted lip and shadowed eye conceal from him
the child whose dead papa let stand in the chariot
as the horses thundered their way to triumph.
I had pleased him, and the world was mine.
I have six Nubian slaves who carry me through the marketplace,
and I smell turmeric, fennel,
crushed cinnabar and cinnamon,
oranges, pine nuts and honey
through the silken curtains.
The civet’s perfume is mine
to touch to my temples.
And yet I asked for the life of a man.
This slave, this man of shreds and patches,
steeped in dung and roaches, whom the insects make a home in,
hair matted in the dust and toil of the earth—he ate locusts and honey
and found nothing sweeter for forty days and nights.
In that time, I brushed my hair and saw the sea breathe.
If he dies for words of truth, I live in lies.
Lie to, with, all who wish it, but princess, behave;
my queen-mother always waiting,
tight-lipped, beautiful, knowing what she wanted
more than men. She lied her love of my father to leave the desert,
lies her love of him to keep a kingdom.
I asked for your life because she whispered in my ear.
And what daughter refuses a queen?
The old pig blanched sick ivory, sent the guards to the door, leaned close,
and closed his eyelids as he wept a little.
Are you sure?
I am sure.
And he straightened, tugged his beard, and without a murmur,
sent away the saint to slaughter.
When I saw the warmth rise, I thought it was wine
steeped with crushed rubies. He was jeweled over
with amber curls, pearled sapphire eyes, onyx, coral, ivory.
Blood is richer than rubies.
© 2015 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.