Ode to the black goddess

de Jessica Reidy
Translation by Laura Sandu

I wore a necklace of white jasmine
for the black goddess, and when I undressed
a petal was pressed to my breast
and I was not free-- rushed,
peeled from my skin, discarded,
I ran from room to room
trailing silk, and finally sat for artists
on a stand, like Romnji before me
shipwrecked in Europe, hunted
refugees, seeking livelihood, posing
for Caravaggesque portraits titled “Gypsy”
steeped with the worst of the slur,
their brown fingers painted dipping into purses,
lifting ruby rings as they read a young fop’s palm
his eye too full of their bursting corsets to notice
hands full of gold and cards.

What were those Romnji paid

in the sweat of their youth, in utter stillness?
Were they still stricken by the guard,
mouths full of blood and resilience?
[...]We are not only our origin
but we are some of it, some of the scythe parting a demon’s neck
some of the lolling tongue licking red salt sin,
the thousand-year battle-cry wrought from the wreck
and the songs sung in camps to nervous children.
Death is/ a beautiful woman.

Sara la Kali, our Romani goddess
sailed the Nile, her third and fourth arms behind her back,
stepped as a servant from Mary’s boat, so lovely,
the Ganges rivered her body black.
Obscured by flora, she stands upon a plinth,
where beneath her lapis robes, a sword tip glints.

The mother of Gypsies doesn’t watch her children
billow up in smoke impassively.

Though I am disrobed, I am her brush
and no one truly renders me.
Though I am permeable, I am her flesh
and no one ever touched me.
Where she exists, Roma women grow like mushrooms,
rising whole from death beneath bare trees.
Elder women are spinning pitchforks
and weaving wildflower wreaths
singing as they fight and as they work,
exhaling the honey of grief.
On the breath, she taps my lung with one long nail.

Jasmine blooms beneath my breast
in tendrils of pale steel.
She likes that I wear my skirts with a knife
tucked in my boot, twirl my braids, and break
bottles in alleyways to scare the men away.
We are forest deer carrying razor blades
between our teeth picking through nettles
toward her river, shedding petals from our flanks.

Roma women grow like mushrooms,
rising whole from death beneath bare trees.

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