Hands have always fascinated me. The delicate movements and waves in the finger bones, the way a single gesture can communicate something more powerful than words, the way they accompany our speech, how they can exude and gather energy. It seems fitting therefore, that I happen to be marrying into a culture where the day before the wedding, the bride’s hands (and feet for that matter) are ritualistically coated in the most beautiful and intricate henna I have ever seen.
Traditionally in Moroccan weddings, henna is separate from the main marriage celebration. All of the women closest to the bride- in this case my mom, my husband’s mother and sisters, childhood friends who made the long journey to Tangier and my best girlfriends from here- gather to celebrate, dance, eat sweets and drink tea. Personally, I will take this over a bachelorette party any day.
For the event, I was dressed by my sisters-in-law in a simple caftan and wore a veil most of the time, as it symbolizes the purity of the beauty possessed by the bride (although they didn’t account for the slipperiness of my non-Moroccan hair- that thing just would not stay over my face). Once fully robed I was ushered out to greet all of my smiling supporters and seated in the center of the salon to let the henna ritual begin.
The majority of my afternoon was spent sitting with my hands in the air and feet propped up for about four hours, letting the henna dry, chatting with and watching the dear women in my life as they shimmied, clapped, stomped, laughed, ate, and received their own henna as well. Despite my legs periodically falling asleep, I was overwhelmed by the happiness in the room. Hands were waving, hands were painted, hands were expressing and everything was just beautiful, in the least superficial sense you can imagine.
I have this beautiful little bedside book of sonnets by Pablo Neruda, with both the Spanish originals and English translations (part of my quest to learn Spanish this year), and as I was reading them last week this one suddenly spoke to me. Ever so appropriately, I wanted to share this love poem about hands for the occasion of my own hands’ love-filled henna ceremony.
Your hand flew from my eyes into the day.
The light arrived and opened like a rose garden.
Sand and sky throbbed like an ultimate
beehive carved in the turquoise.
Your hand touched syllables that rang like bells,
touched cups, barrels full of yellow oil,
flower petals, fountains, and, above all, love,
Love: your pure hand guarded the ladles.
The afternoon… was. Quietly the night slid
over a man asleep, its celestial capsule.
Honeysuckle set loose its sad savage odor.
And then your hand fluttered, it flew back again:
it closed its wings, its feathers I had thought were lost,
over my eyes the darkness has swallowed.