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In the Harem

by Kathryn Hellerstein

Kathryn Hellerstein  |  Autumn 2008  -  Number 211


Turquoise, scarlet, cobalt tiles
Glazed with peacocks, tulips, knotted chains.

From the Courtyard of the New Arrivals,
I can see a narrow strip of sky.

No windows in the women’s chambers.
To this small room, a girl was brought,

Carried, dragged, hands tied behind her,
Voices speaking or barking. Was she shouting?

What did she understand? Had she walked for days,
Captured in war, bought from her father,

Exhausted, on her sandaled feet, cheeks streaked,
Her mountains, meadows, goats, family faces,

Her songs gone except in dreams? 
The floors are scarred, old wood. No furniture

Left now, but pallet-sized platforms.
Did she enter carpeted chambers? Did women

Undress her, bathe her, feed her? 
On cotton, silk, and feathers did she sleep?

Kathryn Hellerstein teaches Yiddish and Jewish Studies at the
University of Pennsylvania. She is poetry editor of Kerem and Nashim.


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