Ode on the Brides of India

Ketaki tells me that her husband’s mother and grandmother
………. insisted she have her nose pierced for the wedding
so she could wear a family heirloom, a gold hoop the size
………. of a tea saucer, and throughout the four days
of the wedding her nose was bleeding, and she couldn’t eat
………. because her face hurt so much, and when the photos
came back her mother-in-law said, “Why weren’t you
………. smiling?” and she wanted to say, “Because I didn’t
want the blood to run down my face,” but when her photo
………. was placed with the other daughters-in-law they, too,
had the same look, and then there was the matter of astrology,
………. a bride and groom having to match in 18 out of 36 areas,
and Ketaki and her husband scored an eight the first time,
………. but after bribing the astrologer they squeaked by with 18.
Ketaki told us about a woman who was told her husband
………. would die in two years, but she married him anyway
and he dropped dead in the allotted time. A few weeks later
………. on a train to Jaipur, Una tells me about the morning
of her wedding, waking early and her uncle placing neem leaves
………. on her body and covering her face with turmeric paste
for purification. As soon as he left, she jumped into the shower
………. and washed everything off. Taran says her Sikh wedding
was much less complicated than a Hindu wedding. The bride
………. wears red, because white is for widows, and black
is just plain bad luck. Weddings always take place early
………. in the day. The bride and groom walk around the holy book
seven times. Taran’s husband says Indian weddings are a hedge
………. against divorce. They are so difficult no one would ever want
to do it twice. Taran says the bride’s mother gives the groom
………. a coconut, which he takes to the wedding and puts under a fire,
and that’s when luck begins. What is luck? Before it was outlawed,
………. a widow would jump on her husband’s funeral pyre,
to join him in the afterlife, and then there is joyhar,
………. or mass suicide, as in the case of Queen Padmini
who jumped on a fire with all her ladies when a rival king
………. who lusted after her was attacking her husband’s fort
and was about to breach the walls, and I think of the horoscope
………. my sister did for me and my husband for a wedding present,
and it said we were an incandescent match except for raising children,
………. so thank you, Margaret Sanger, for helping me dodge
that bullet, and while I’m at it, thank you, India, for your women
………. who work in the fields in saris of magenta and gold,
like bright jewels in the sun and the chic women of Mumbai,
………. clicking along on heels, but also the girls who are sold
to families that work them like slaves or the woman killed
………. by her husband because he wanted to take a new wife
and that wife, too, because they say a second murder is easier
………. than the first. O brides everywhere, what is it we hope
for, what is it we want? It’s hard to tell, and sometimes
………. we make these choices before we know what we
are doing, and those of us who hold back, we don’t know what
………. we want either, but it’s something we can’t see, but we know
it’s out there somewhere though there’s a feeling in our minds
………. of a life so free that it might not be possible in a body
with all its rivers and continents of desire, but there it is
………. and if we can dream it, perhaps it can come true.

Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby is the author of six books of poems, most recently Bird Odyssey (2018) and On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems (2014), both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. This poem is from her new manucript, Holoholo, which is all odes. Other odes in the book have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and The New Yorker.
Barbara Hamby

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Author: Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby is the author of six books of poems, most recently Bird Odyssey (2018) and On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems (2014), both published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. This poem is from her new manucript, Holoholo, which is all odes. Other odes in the book have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and The New Yorker.