Purdah I, by Imtiaz Dharker | Illustration by Alessandro Gottardo
One day they said
she was old enough to learn some shame.
She found it came quite naturally.
Purdah is a kind of safety.
The body finds a place to hide.
The cloth fans out against the skin
much like the earth falls
on coffins after they put the dead men in.
People she has known
stand up, sit down as they have always done.
But they make different angles
in the light, their eyes aslant,
a little sly.
She half-remembers things
from someone else’s life,
Perhaps from yours, or mine –
carefully carrying what we do not own:
between the thighs, a sense of sin.
We sit still, letting the cloth grow
a little closer to our skin.
A light filters inward
through our bodies’ walls.
Voices speak inside us,
echoing in the spaces we have just left.
She stands outside herself,
sometimes in all four corners of a room.
Wherever she goes, she is always
inching past herself,
as if she were a clod of earth
and the roots as well,
scratching for a hold
between the first and second rib.
Passing constantly out of her own hands
into the corner of someone else’s eyes…
while doors keep opening
inward and again