Jane Hilberry

In Arabic

In her room in my house, a teenage girl speaks a language
I don’t understand, a language she makes into gravel
to fling at her father, across a thousand miles.
Like a mood ring set on a stove, she changes
when she hears her father’s voice–the atmosphere
around her turns dark purple, spiked
with yellow-green knives. He tells her to cover
her neck and head. When she argues,
it sounds as if she were being strangled,
scraping the bottom of a river whose current
presses her under. In Amman, women stream
the streets, heads scarved. A river can take a girl
and pin her to a rock, like an uncle pushing
a child against a wall, his hand bigger than the whole
of her sex. Some Arab women paint their hands
with intricate, hennaed patterns, like the swirls
this girl now doodles on the back of her fist
in blue pen, a design with four quadrants, a symmetry
with such confidence it must have arisen
from beneath her skin. She has her compass,
her knives. She will survive.

Jane Hilberry
In Arabic first appeared in The Women’s Review of Books, Fall 2005, and is reprinted from Body Painting, (Red Hen Press, 2005).