Poem of the Week - Purvi Shah



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.



-Purvi Shah  


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.  


Check out more of her work at http://purvipoets.net  or@PurviPoets on Twitter.   


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