Of blood and war
The first time it happens, you are barely twelve
So much blood must mean either wound or war,
So you run to your mother and ask if you are dying.
This is not death, she says, this is existence,
Just the basic bloodshed of being woman.
There will be a celebration next week, she says
With silks and jaggery, turmeric and gold.
But don't be swayed by such fleeting love
The real gift is an unwritten book,
Stitched with rope, bound with tradition,
Its pages ornate and yet so sharp with rules,
They only slice the fingers of women.
Because you are a child, you take this gift
And you come to believe in this unquestioning dark
The flowers that will wilt, the milk will spoil
The men and other fragile beings that will take ill.
Everything, she says, that can be defiled by you.
Last April you helped your aunt make mango pickles
This month even your touch will spoil them
-- All that careful soaking in brine and spice
-- All that ageing in the home's coldest corners
Where you will now sit for days every month,
Muffling the many mouths of your pain.
You cannot go to temples now, says your mother
You cannot worship the goddess I named you after.
You are still a child, she says, but you are enough woman
You are still a child, but you are already too much woman
For anyone to bear, not the men, not the priests,
They must pray to save all their gods from you.