We left our homeland
before I learned
the names of my grandmothers,
before they could teach me
to soften pain with mosses,
to ease the eyes
with herbs.

Even in that place
where he led us,
my father did not use
my mother’s name.
He forbade us
to weave the threads
of stars, to walk
in the streets
where men stroked
the stares of men
while their women
sang in dim rooms
and gathered at the mouths
of  wells.

What I knew
I learned from watching
through the thin windows.
I had seen a young man
throw himself
before horsemen,
had watched his mother,
each morning,
gnash hands
against her hips
as her husband laced his boots
and left for racing.
I saw the strangers
when they first came,
the men who counseled
my father,
the ones the crowd
gathered for.

I remember that night,
the faces that glowed with
torches, our fat neighbor
shoving aside his two wives
and shouting
            introduce us.

I remember my father,
his damp hands
bruising my arms,
dragging my sister
with me through the door,
offering our bodies instead,
         take these
         they’re virgins . . .

I remember my sister sobbing
as he tore her robe
and my own breasts blackened
with the smoke of torches,
my mother, silent in the doorway,

But the crowd would not have us.
They jeered for the gold
not the copper
of my father’s purse
so the strangers
scalded their eyes with oil
and drove them from the courtyard.
They told my father
to take his tents
and leave the city.
That morning, as we struggled
behind him, the heat
was like the sun
had settled between our shoulders,
even in the foothills
we could hear the city burning,
the crack of great timbers,
the screams of people
waking to the light
of flames.

It was then my mother
turned to witness
what my father’s friends had done
and cried for the city,
for her own flesh.
We could not look back,
my father pulled us from her.

After this, I gave him wine.
And, as he panted, pale,
Above me
I clenched his back
bit into his skin
and found the sweet herb,
the red flower.