Salome’s Lament

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.

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