Mehndi (Henna)
by Jessica Banas

    I remember you now as a beauty
    I cannot place by name -
    Muslim, Hindu or Sephardic in faith,
    with henna peacock stained on your body,
    placed boldly among scrolls
    of flower and vine, branching
    its loud voice
    over ten days of your skin.

    I first saw it while you stood
    Trembling and naked
    in the gym's showers. Then
    you were a stranger -
    far from your birthing.
    The talisman of crushed leaves
    decorating your body,
    meant to protect vulnerability
    through transition.

    In classrooms we called you Judy.
    In hallways we taunted look and smell,
    calling you anything but
    your rightful name, given you
    under the Middle Eastern sun.

    These years later I am handed
    a clue to your mystery -
    the thing that made us all cringe
    with doubt - while reading a book
    on the ancient body art of Mehndi.
    Unsuspecting on the pages
    somewhere between caption
    and photograph of hand is hidden
    the peacock, listed as a symbol
    of the unseen divine.

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