on Yasmeen

Subject: Yasmeen

From: Layla


Sent: Sat Apr 25 03:35:12 2009

Growing up, my parents kept a summer house in Cairo, and there I had a perfect view of the moon from my bedroom window. I would lie in bed each night and watch – from new moon, to crescent, to half, to full, and back again. The sky was always clear and littered with stars. There was a jasmine vine that grew along the rocks that formed a wall behind my parents’ house. Over the years it latched onto and crawled its way over the top of a pergola, and then onto the rooftop, forming a trellis along the way. Soon it was cascading over the edge of the window of my bedroom.


One night I looked out to the moon and saw the tiny white flowers imposing on my view. They were poking in from one side, only a little, but enough to assert themselves and insist on joining my evening sojourn. The leaves on the vine were a waxy, rich, dark green and no matter what the weather, the flowers always seemed to be in bloom. Tightly closed all day, the flowers would open as the sun set and the moon took its turn, releasing their scent into the night. The petals were small and delicate, shaped like a pinwheel when in full bloom, emitting a fragrance that was strong and sweet, especially when the moon waxed towards fullness. The scent of jasmine is potent. It is cool and balancing, hypnotic and sensual. It is believed to penetrate the deepest layers of the soul. This vine that imposed and penetrated had a determination of its own, framing my tryst with the moon. I would go to sleep with my bedroom window open and each night the fragrant air would fill my room and at once soothe and stimulate me.

I named my daughter Yasmeen after the poet’s jasmine that grows on the vine that shared my view of the moon. Yasmeen is the Persian name of the flower that finds its roots in Iran. I wanted my daughter to share the moon with me and to bloom into all that I dreamed of every night as I breathed in the air around me. I want so much for her. I want her to grow, reach, climb and soar. I want her to impose. I want her to bear her burdens but feel fearless and free. I want her to love her body, unleash her spirit and run wild with joy. I want her to love poetry and hold a scent that shoots from her and reaches the stars. I want her to be light and drift in the breeze. I want her to relish in the heat so her skin is alive to sensations, imbibing thick, humid air, so her body is warm and pulsing to cool her. I want her to smile in wonderment at the moon and roar with laughter at the sun. I want all that I wanted for my own body and my own self.

I stare at her sometimes and wonder what secrets she holds. I wonder what she thinks of the world and of me. I am in awe of her. She does not even fear me. She challenges and riles me. She does not listen without question and she does not accept without argument. She rarely follows instructions and cannot be left to her own devices. She is willful and stubborn, clinging to me and demanding my attention. She is complex and intriguing, amorous and exciting. When she sleeps with me, she curls her legs around me and wraps me in her arms, placing one hand on my neck. She has done this ever since I nursed her, and when she lies next to me, her hand creeps back to where it always rested. Sometimes her hand is too close to my throat and too tight in its grasp. It frightens me and I picture her body a vine latching onto my parts and creeping all over me. Her face is always close to mine and her breath warms my chest. I feel her heartbeat. It is so much faster than mine.

My daughter is no wallflower. She does not like poetry and she does not bloom nocturnally. She blasts onto the scene diurnally, rambunctious and unwieldy, and her energy has no limits. She is potent and persistent, and she loves to climb. Her body twists and twines, sprawling over and through everything in sight leaving a trail that is not easily removed. She is combative and impulsive and moves with abandon, showing no mindfulness of her imposition on the world around her. Her knees are covered in scratches and her heels are always rough. She is very, very clever and the attention her mind brings to her lends her to a caustic wit far beyond her years. Her hair is long and unruly and she refuses to tie it or braid it. She is at constant war with her swimming instructor because she refuses to wear a swim cap or takes it off as soon as she plunges into the water. And she hates trimming her tresses. It is with pleading, promising, cajoling, arguing, threatening, intimidating and begging that I can insist on a haircut maybe once a year. She sits in a chair for the poor woman who promises to only trim an inch or two of dry, split ends, and she sulks. She is furious and resentful, and nothing for days will bring a smile to her face. Parts of her have been taken from her without her consent and she is aggrieved. And she will make sure I know. This daughter of mine does not care for deportment. When she was little she hated dolls. I do love that she hated dolls. I don’t like them either. They are fixed, perfect and unreal.

I think, sometimes, my daughter is a tiger – territorial, but not straying far from her mother. Sometimes I think she is a mantis – ambushing her prey with raptorial legs. Sometimes I think she is amber – fixing everything in her presence, preserving it in golden transparency. I do know that my daughter is a sum of parts – her own sum of parts. I wonder whether, deep down, she knows that I want her to prove my self to me. Maybe she will. Or maybe she won’t. Just to teach me a lesson.