Flood God Virgin: Testimony
by Sara Elkamel
In the musician’s hands even my back
had the feel of velvet. Hair grounded
beneath the skin. I was convinced the eyes of god
were drawn like blinds in the night,
so I undressed. When dark would spread itself
like a mirror over the river, I’d dip my feet
in black glass as he sang. I was trying to learn
but my voice was potholed and faint.
To practice, I started singing to the fish after he left.
I grew so attached I started rescuing them
from the fishermen’s nets; replaced them with eye-shaped
stones. Men started selling them along the banks,
and that’s how stone became staple in our country.
I lied to the musician about the morning hours,
said I always left right after he did. One morning
my mother let the sun come screaming in, shook me
like a child and said virgin--the flood god
has asked for you. She rubbed my skin
with a coarse black stone until water rolled
over my bones like a finger. You will be
spotless for your husband. She lifted
each hair from its roots with rose water
and sugar. That morning the music of harps
and hunger came from hundreds
of lion men. They held spears the size of palm trees,
their bellies bare, their faces salted
with pride. Women painted my face with butter
and red pigment and fastened god’s lotus to my hair.
Wrapped ropes around my waist. Can you
imagine? For hours I stood silent at the island’s edge
as the salted men sang. O god, O flood, feed us
with your eyes! I might have heard the musician
chanting too, but in daylight our truths are tenuous
and the potholed heart suspects even her mother.
I tried to say you have the wrong girl. You have the wrong go--
Who are you to say what’s right for this country?
They called me an infidel, and used the word love.
One more word we’ll bury you in the sand.
They hemmed my white dress with black stones the shape
of god’s eyes. This is the system;
you cannot change it. When the harps grew silent
I cracked the river and fell. A whole wedding
was watching me. My only question, falling, was what god
would flood the land with
when he saw inside my body
a girl, singing badly to the fish—what livid silt,
Sara Elkamel is a poet and journalist living between her hometown, Cairo, and New York City. She holds an MA in arts journalism from Columbia University, and is an MFA candidate in poetry at New York University. Elkamel's poems have appeared in The Common, Michigan Quarterly Review, Four Way Review, The Cincinnati Review, The Yale Review, Narrative Magazine, and as part of the anthologies Best New Poets and Best of the Net, among other publications. She is the author of the chapbook “Field of No Justice” (African Poetry Book Fund & Akashic Books, 2021).