by Shveta Thakrar

For Francesca Forrest

So red this rose
Brambles burst from my mouth
(Stammers strangled into sterile silence)
A thicket of thorns so deep
So sharp
Punctures me stab by stab
Pinning my shivering skin
To this sanitary mounting board of a bed
I am classified, categorized, made clean
Tell me, O Prince, O Raja,
Have you ever seen a specimen
As finely preserved?

Pain blossoms bloom from tangled roots
Burrowed dark in my belly
My matted nerves a briar patch
I bleed where no one else can see
(Be silent, damsel, they say. Be still!
He likes it sweet.)

Petals cloying as claret syrup
(So very sweet)
Drip from my pinioned lips
Splash, defiant, from my womb
To trickle thickly down brown thighs
Ruby rivers of long-smothered revolt

This pollen-heart, how it pulses
So heavy here in the cold and the gloom
Weighty as my golden dowry
A prize kept safe for the one to
Unfetter me
Loose me
Claim me

I must smile for you, shine for you
Submit to all the attentions
You bestow on my still, sweet body
And pay you well for the privilege
While you, O Prince, O Raja,
Take of me what you wish
My words you don’t want, much less
My leaf-dressed dreams
But for coin—
For coin and castles and stolen kisses
Of course you’ll come
And crush the curse
(Of course)

Something rustles at the palace gate
A solitary sword slashing through the spikes
The tarnished gate groans aside
Footsteps sound, firm and famished
(Be like nectar, sweet!)
One stroke, one slice, and my hands go free
Smiling, I reach up
Perspiring sweet, sweet, sweet perfume
My bed of branches a barbed embrace
For my would-be rescuer
My self-anointed knight
My unwitting replacement

Your arms roving in search of sweetness
You bend your smirking mouth to mine
And I reel you right in

Shveta Thakrar

Shveta Thakrar is a writer of South Asian–flavored fantasy, social justice activist, and part-time nagini who crafts, devours books, daydreams, travels, bakes, and plays her harp.