Madness in the Harem
Up in the alabaster tower of carved
stone, the harem is restless.
The girls still chatter and giggle, but they
fidget. They can’t seem to settle to
the morning’s gossip or enjoy the sweets
because of the madwoman
locked up and raving
down the hall.
Once she was fair as a yellow rosebud,
but she was never right and she grew thorny wild.
She cast her prickly brambles across the old walls, trying
to wrap up the girls for trellis, make them long to
speak of her, braid her grey hair with flowers,
sit rapt to listen to her re-tell them tales
of her many imaginary sons, her unequaled
echinate beauty, her exploits and conquests
that now were ghosts reflected in a foxed mirror.
One day, when they once again embarrassed
bent their heads away, she climbed out the window,
high on the white piercework balcony,
and began to scream and spit the foulest curses, all day
all night, setting the monkeys howling, till they came
and locked her away, where her cries muted
behind the heavy door to only a far murmur, serene
as the sibilant calling of birds at dusk.
The girls are already forgetting her, lips parted to sing again
the gypsy lovesongs, rippling notes of laughter and desire,
fingers painting blue globes speckled with brown freckles,
boxed in a circle of silk, hatching chicks to fly where
they never can. At night, they watch the white fireflies
embroider the jungle air with needles of lightning,
splash all morning in their scented baths,
and wind their arms together like an arbor.
Photo by Neil Alexander, this week's featured photographer