Portrait

She stared out of the picture in the old metal frame,
diamonds flashing in her nose and ears,
a yellow saree swept across her shy shoulders,
vermilion dust parting her curly hair,
a bemused question on her glowing face;
photographed for the first time,
the only time.
Not yet twenty.
Outside the moon ticked softly towards a nervous dawn.

A child bride at thirteen,
village elders had matched horoscopes,
plotted with the stars to select a date,
counted seven steps around the sacred fire;
two children before she learnt to read,
dying with the third
their innocence dissolving in a river of blood.
Not yet twenty.
Faint fingers of dawn, like freshly washed henna, were breaking open the sky.

Staring back at the portrait,
she wondered at her grandfather,
married again within the year,
the young girl quickly forgotten,
even the children
too young to remember,
even her mother;
just this picture inside an old cupboard, unseen,
with eyes that mirrored her own,
no one noticed, no one remembered,
she had been dead too long.
Not yet twenty.
The house was waking up for a wedding, smelling of sweet ghee and marigold.

She would be bathed
in turmeric and sandal paste,
made up in gold and emeralds and silk,
seven steps around the sacred fire,
tears blamed on the stinging smoke,
showered with soft petals and rice.
she had been dead too long;
what was she telling her, her grandmother,
staring out of the picture frame?
Not yet twenty.
She slipped the diamond ring off her finger and walked into the waiting sun.

For Poets United where the midweek prompt is “Marriage”
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45 thoughts on “Portrait

    1. In a way I suppose, I was tracking the transition from darkness to light with the closing lines of each stanza… do share your thots…would love to know what the poem triggered. Thanks very much.

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  1. Sadly there would be no slipping off of the diamond ring….the girl has to go through with it.
    My best friend’s mother use to sigh ” another little angel born to suffer” when she heard the news of a baby girl’s birth.I used to think she was strange until I understood.

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  2. Wow! Stories contain power, and you reveal their workings here vividly in this exposure of one hidden/silenced story that communicates generation to generation. This is my new favorite of yours. Girls may have to step out of tradition to be able to tell their stories if they don’t find that photograph speaking to them from a closet! Probably men, too. I recently spoke with a young Iraqi woman here at the retreat center who told me that when she was 9 she saw a female USA soldier in uniform, and this gave her the courage to resist her 12-year-old engagement to be married at 16. She moved on “and walked into the waiting sun.” I didn’t think anything positive was accomplished by the USA in Iraq! So her story together with yours is giving me new ideas and hope.

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    1. Thanks so much Susan… I think your point about having role models is absolutely right..in the family or community…to help create new aspirations and courage.

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  3. This story was very riveting, with an unexpected ending. The repeated lines work really well to underline the tale….and the italicized lines are spectacular. I really loved this!

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  4. This is pure magic. What a pleasure to read. I love this:

    “a yellow saree swept across her shy shoulders,
    vermilion dust parting her curly hair”

    And that last line! Stunning. And suddenly so full of hope and promise.

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  5. Forced child marriages entrap young girls in relationships that deprive them of their basic human rights. Letting go is one of the hardest things a person can do. Am glad she found a happy sunshine spot .. A very beautiful piece, thotpurge!

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