15. jaipur

the Prince of Wales was coming:

the streets were swept, laundry water gushed down thirsty
gutters, clay pots filled with stars
of anise and cinnamon bark
baking under desert sun, asleep and waiting.
the men wrapped dripping cotton
around their blistered necks; they stood
stacked on rocking ladders
to count each brushstroke,
each curling around the namaz through the night air,
each calligraphic hand holding
the expective weight
of the empire.

we counted our new bangles
and plaited our hair though no one would ever see it
beneath our veils.
all of us painted the town pink,
the color of horses’ hoofsteps
pattering like rain, and we touched
our fingertips into the drying arabesques,
accidentally leaving ourselves in ridges
on the walls of history.
when he arrived he did not extol our beauties;
it was as if this is how
it had always been, like we had always known
our casual royalty, like he had seen such splendors
already before this.
How could he know that we labored so
to welcome him?

o pink city,
when they peel back your paint,
may they find you the same–
the color of remembered centuries, of Hindi,
of rosy deep-throated ghazals;
may you never change your walls for another man.

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