by Vandana Khanna

How does the girl come to be?
Talc at the back of her neck to stop the sweat
from jeweling, to stop the black-eyed shine of the evil eye.

Is the girl beholden?
She is years of yeses in the making, her eyes button-shut
against the world beyond her upstairs window, beyond
the hundred jeweled and slippery eyes of an empire
sewed into her veil.

What is she beholden to?
The relentless white of empire gathering as a crown’s teeth
on her head, as someone else’s sweat and jewels, threaded
and pearled through every tight stitch of needle.

How is the girl to be held?
A hundred tiny threads hold her
in place: by the throat, by lace and pearl and empire.

What does she want if she could?
O, how a girl longs to hold a flame to this empire, to char
its pristine white – a threat that needs no straightening,
no hands to mend it.

How is the girl to be held?
Sewn into white, sewn into the bridal bed waiting for the thread to rend.

What then?
A tear in the fabric of empire, just a pearl’s gossamer eyes
at the vulnerable neck of a girl, at the vulnerable neck
of an empire. Enough to gather the shine and sweat of a girl:
a thread, a threat, a veil.