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The Courtesan’s Reply – Tambulasena by Shazea Quraishi

The Courtesan’s Reply – Tambulasena
Shazea Quraishi

In the beginning
my whole body was covered with skin
hard as rock. Then he came

and his mouth was a river
running over me, cool and quick
with small, silver fish.

Night after night
he shaped me
and smoothed me

to my velvet


Now, I bathe while he watches,
feel his eyes,
fireflies on my skin.
I bend over,
my hair, a curtain of water
between us.

I let him towel me dry,
his strokes soft at first, then brisk,
like a cloth shining a lamp.

Water drips down
my back. He grasps the rope
of my hair and climbs.


What came before desire? I suppose all I had were my arms wrapped around myself. I suppose for a while I thought that was enough.

Sometimes I forget what life was like before you were in my life. Perhaps in anticipation of your arrival, I was trying to love myself as best I can. Even if my heart was rarely a heart for years and years.

What came before your skin on my skin. Does it matter. Given the chance I will drink from your lips again and again.


This poem appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation Magazine, Series 3 No 12. Shared here with profound gratitude.


Read more works by Shazea Quraishi • Find books by this poet • Or view my library


Explore poems in pursuit of: the bodydesirewater • Or browse the index

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