Loss is an art, traversing one world to the next
"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.
Photo credit: Willi Wong
Used by permission.
From Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006)
Purvi Shah's Terrain Tracks (New Rivers Press, 2006), which explores migration as potential and loss, won the Many Voices Project prize and was nominated for the Asian American Writers' Workshop Members' Choice Award. Her work fighting violence against women earned her the inaugural SONY South Asian Social Services Award in 2008. In 2011, she served as Artistic Director for Together We Are New York, a community-based poetry project to highlight the voices of Asian Americans during the 10th anniversary of 9/11. She believes in the miracle of poetry and the beauty of change.
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