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by Leila Chatti

(Arabic) Beginner: One who sees blood for the first time.
“And indeed, [appointed] over you are keepers, Noble and recording;
They know whatever you do.”
—The Holy Quran 82: 10-12

Hidden in a dim stall as the muezzin called
all worshipers to prayer, I touched privately
the indelible stain. And watched, with a nascent sense
of kinship, the women washing
through the interstice of the door,
their veils slipping off like water, water
spotting their clothes like rain.
I thought the thought only
children and the pious believe, that I was, just
like that, no longer
a girl: the blood my summons, blot like a seal, a scarlet membership
card slid from my innermost pocket. I was newly twelve and wise
enough to be frightened. I had read The Book and so understood
my own was now opening, alighting
onto my shoulders like some ethereal bird flapping
briefly immaculate
wings, and understood, too, that I myself engendered
the ink with which, on its pages, my sins would forever be
written (not literally but
this was how I imagined it, metaphor, as the blood brought
God’s recorders like sharks to me,
menarche a bright flare, a matador’s crimson cape)
—I had not been good
all my life but until this first vermillion drip
I lived unobserved, my sins not sins
because no one looked. And now,
above like a lamp suddenly
ablaze, God’s reproachful
eye turned my way, a searchlight eternally
searching, and seeing and seeing—
I was as good as I would ever be. In the dark, the ruddy
iris stared back at me.

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