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Queen Scheherazade - Persian Queen of the 1001 Nights

Legendary Persian Queen Scheherazade
Storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights
Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Painting by Sophie Anderson

My Poetry Corner March 2016 features the poem “The Marvelous Women” from the poetry collection, E-mails from Scheherazad, by Syrian-American poet and author Mohja Kahf. Born in Damascus, Syria, Kahf was four years old when she migrated with her parents to Utah in 1971. After obtaining their university degrees, her parents moved with her to Indiana. When she was in tenth grade, they relocated to New Jersey where she later obtained her doctorate in comparative literature at Rutgers University. Following her marriage, Kahf settled in Arkansas. An associate professor at the University of Arkansas, she teaches comparative literature and Middle Eastern Studies.

The opening stanza of “The Marvelous Women” caught my attention.

All women speak two languages:
the language of men
and the language of silent suffering.
Some women speak a third,
the language of queens.
They are marvelous
and they are my friends.

I know well the language of men and the language of silent suffering. What was this language of queens? Perhaps the answer lies in the title of Kahf’s poetry collection. Scheherazade is the legendary Persian queen and storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights.

In the second stanza, the poet expresses her debt to the marvelous women in her life. In sharing their stories, her poems can inspire other women to go beyond their limits.

My friends give me poetry.
If it were not for them
I’d be a seamstress out of work.
They send me their dresses
and I sew together poems,
enormous sails for ocean journeys.

I love her metaphor of the seamstress. Even the working woman can aspire to speaking the language of queens.

The third stanza reveals that the marvelous women come from all walks of life. What makes them so special? They support and lift each other up throughout the various stages of a woman’s life (expanded in the fourth stanza).

My marvelous friends, these women
who are elegant and fix engines,
who teach gynecology and literacy
and work in jails and sing and sculpt
and paint the ninety-nine names,
who keep each other’s secrets
and pass on each other’s spirits
like small packets of leavening

In the fifth and sixth stanzas, Kahf further explores what makes these women special.

You rescuers on galloping steeds
of the weak and the wounded—
Creatures of beauty and passion,
powerful workers in love…

who levitate my daughters…

The marvelous women who speak the language of queens have an important role in our chaotic world of endless wars.

you are the last hope of the shrinking women.
You are the last hand to the fallen knights.
You are the only epics left in the world.  

To read the complete poem and learn more about Mohja Kahf’s work, go to my Poetry Corner March 2016.