Mehndi girls

for Chennai, India

The evening before the wedding I pluck
blooming moons like pale jasmine. Amma
cradles each one in her palms, splashes the
white on all our brown bodies. I watch as
Ammamma’s henna cone kisses our sun-
soaked arms, spirals tracing a prayer for a
daughter, a tendril germinating from the paste.
Tomorrow, the sun will rise, the groom
will place vermillion on her scalp. His touch
like a fingertip to money. A girl becomes a
woman when brown skin becomes rupees,
when daughter translates to dowry. Tonight,
the bride wears onyx eyes, searching for the
groom’s name in henna. Somewhere there is
a mehndi girl, searching & searching &
searching. Her husband’s fist clenches,
his girl-stained knuckles, white as a
full moon.