bride price

when she was 7
my daughter started second grade
her bedroom purple
& pink with Barbies & plush.
she kept a dollhouse
& not very well

how is a girl
as young as 7
a wife, except
to play house
with an imaginary husband

These girls have no time for school or toys or dolls. They are married off so their families don’t starve, or perhaps to buy education for their brothers. Sometimes the transaction is motivated by greed.  Maybe the family can’t feed their daughter and the other man can.

what is the cost of a bride?
counted in pulse
tallied in breathing
measured in tears

or is the value inside
the weight of her flesh
the work of her hands
the fruit of her body

What was a symbolic gesture, a token of appreciation, or a show of a husband’s worth becomes a transaction. Call this confusion cultural blindness, but my eyes are open to pain. Is it marriage, this child-barter; this passing of a life between hands–father to husband?

what is the price
of childhood
gutted & bleeding
for the sake of need
or greed on an altar of desire.
desire that her body
is not made to know
or accept yet

Maybe we hold too tightly to our children here.  I think perhaps we do not hold them tight enough, or long enough, ever.

she is 15
& a mother.
she serves injera
& chick pea stew,
lowers her eyes
to the portable stove
until her husband tells her
to speak her mind:
she says it hurts
to sleep with a man

before you are ready

When you have nothing left to sell, maybe a life is worth a goat and bags of rice when there is nothing, literally, to eat and no money to get it. Maybe trading daughters for livestock is not a primitive thing so much as it is primal: life for life, so that all may eat. Still, what is primal in me resists this. This can only happen where mothers are voiceless and daughters meat.

she smiles, as if to soften
her words. but her eyes tell
the sharp edges
that will not leave her mouth

pain, even old pain
haunts

***we are combining poetry & prose over at Dverse this week.  Over the next week, until I get the right feel for it, I am going to be exploring child marriage, as coming up on 11 October, we have the International Day of the Girl Child, and the focus this year is on discouraging this practice, which occurs for many reasons, and not all of them are easily brushed away.  Thank you Noel et. al. for drawing my attention in this direction–I will be doing a lot of reading–and hopefully writing–in this area for the next week.  This is just a rough draft of a start.

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About Susan L Daniels

I am a firm believer that politics are personal, that faith is expressed through action, and that life is something that must be loved and lived authentically--or why bother with any of it?
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72 Responses to bride price

  1. boomiebol says:

    For a rough draft, you nailed it.

    • Thanks, Boomie. There is such complexity in this issue–how do I, whose only personal experience has been talking with a 14-year-old married Ethiopian young girl in a laundromat once over here write about this?

      • boomiebol says:

        I can understand where you are coming from…still you got to speak to that girl, and that has opened a window for you…the idea is not to manipulate the issue, it’s to write as your heart reacts to it…and i know you will do it due justice.

        Oftentimes, we have no idea about many issues, still the burden is placed on our hearts once we read or hear about it. I think you will write as passionately as you possibly can about this very important issue.

        The maternal genes run through you…it will propel you like nothing else too on an issue like this.

  2. The tradition of bride price (as opposed to dowry) is most common in cultures in which women are perceived to offer some financial benefit–first to their fathers and then to their husbands. A Turkmen girl in Afghanistan, for example, makes jewelry and carpets that bring income to the family, and so the father expects to be recompensed when he gives her up to a husband. However this tradition is to be perceived–as good or bad–it is a separate issue from child marriage. The Rabari of India continue to practice true child marriage based on the belief that marriage should occur between pure individuals and only children are truly pure. But they do not expect children to marry and immediately live together as husband and wife. A father who would sell his seven year old daughter off to a man, who will subsequently use her for his service and pleasure, is no father at all. And it shames me deeply that this sometimes occurs in Muslim communities, for it is absolutely prohibited by the law of Islam for this to happen. Not that all Muslims actually understand or care about the law. Of course, the same could be said of Christians and all other religious communities, for that matter. Thank you for sharing this verse, Susan, and for encouraging us to think about this subject.

    • Hi George–yes–completely different issues–I do not see bride prices/dowries as bad things at all–just perhaps here where I am using it in a very loose interpretation to mean something else entirely, motivated by poverty. Perhaps I need a different title.

      • I do still like the image you convey of all this as a cold transaction. The price attached to a childhood. I held off finishing my thought as I was typing my lengthy comment above, but I really wanted to say that a father who sells his daughter in this way is not father at all but a pimp. I have lived with and studied enough cultures to have found a calm place within me from which I can understand and respect what other cultures do. But selling girls — prepubescent girls — as wives to adult men utterly disgusts me. Some actions I can never calmly accept.

        • George–that is what makes you you, and makes that you a wonderful person. We should never accept imbalances of power, exploitation, and suffering, no matter what other things they are called on the surface, as anything other than what they are.

    • If it shames you so much George why are you and Muslims who think like you not doing something about it particularly as you say it is against the law of Islam.

      • I do not know how you can be so sure that we are NOT doing anything to try to stop this practice, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume you’re right. In which case, what would you suggest we do?

      • Cressida–can we not point rhetorical fingers at one another, and simply address this for the horrible human rights abuse issue that it very much is? A moderate muslim can do little to control the behavior of his radical brothers in other countries any more than a moderate christian can silence the idiots on the christian right over here.

  3. my stomach hurts when i think about this.. how hard must it be for the parents..how tough it is for her.. i’m glad you touch a topic like this with your writing and you really do it in a masterful way

  4. Mama Zen says:

    This is incredible writing.

  5. Susan, this is powerful and the comments expand and enrich the core themes you have so wonderfully explored in the poem.

    • Imela, Noel. I hope to eventually replace the comments with poetry, along the lines of the comments–or do you think it works well this way?

      • I like the shuttle between poetry and prose. It is fresh, it is new, it explains, it focuses the mind and presents the image of a poet whose work recognises context as a frame factor!

        • Hmmmm. Reading it that way, I like it too. I might just have to leave this one as is, for now. Again, thanks for pointing me in the direction of this topic. It sits heavily on my chest.

  6. I see why you want time to work with this important and heart-rending issue but agree that this ‘draft’ is extremely well crafted. The details make it heart breaking. The switch between the questioning of the prose and the POV poetry is affecting and calls our attention to our own process of questioning and compassion. Beautifully done!

    • Anna, thank you so much. I am going to continue to explore this through other work leading up to the 11th, I think. I think perhaps this piece should stand as it is–trusting your instincts on this and Noel’s.

      Oh, and thanks so much for the follow, too!

  7. tashtoo says:

    Amazing strength in this write Susan…sets my blood to boiling that we have created a world where one would be forced to such measures…I see nothing here that needs fixing, and that includes the sense of compassion from where you write

    • Tash, thanks so very much. I am angered, saddened, and sickened by the whole thing. How innocence is consumed and sacrificed, and for what? To what end? My 12-1/2-year-old daughter is actually writing her thoughts about this, which I am then going to weave through with mine, and that is going to be tomorrow’s poem about this.

  8. Rough draft? Yeah right! ;) This is very interesting and obviously thought-provoking. I can actually relate to it. I am half Libyan, and my Grandmother was married at 12. It’s not as commonplace now, but young children very much used to be wedded as soon as they hit ‘puberty’. Also, there is a dowry involved. I even had a dowry when I got married (unbeknownst to me). I am divorced now (surprise!). This is still all too commonplace these days and you have highlighted the issues around it so well. I also LOVE the poetry/prose format. I will have to have a think about what I could write about.

    • Soraya, wow. Your grandma was married at 12? I am not so much concerned about dowries, etc., as that part involving the marriage of girls, pubescent or prepubescent, to adults. So very, very sad. Oh, I do so hope you try this format–it worked well here, I thought.

  9. I wrote about this a few months ago. It all breaks my heart. A child should be a child for as long as they can be. I know in some cultures they wait until the child is older but, many don’t. Breaks my heart to think that humans can sell and trade in humans as if they are sheep or cattle. Life is such a precious gift.
    Yes, you nailed it Susan.

  10. festivalking says:

    I can so relate with this piece! you might as well be from my part of the world :(
    Beautiful work here…

  11. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) says:

    Beautifully written.

  12. brian miller says:

    ugh….how sad….i know it happens but it is so scary…to think of them with the old men….and having no choice…so much loss there…thank you for using your voice…

    • Thanks, Brian. This makes me so sad, so angry–but there is a 12-year-old over here with me who is even angrier, and I just put her reaction up on my blog. Oh, the passion and fury of the very young–she has enough to share with her victimized sisters, I think. She just told me she wants to change the world when she grows up…

  13. Jessica says:

    Wow Susan. This is an incredible poem. We don’t hold our children long enough. And instead putting our energy into doing something about what the world really needs–most of us are worried about our own petty politics.

  14. Mary says:

    How very sad and tragic this is, that these young girls are deprived of their childhood, are ‘sold’ into a marriage where they must do things must earlier than their bodies were meant to. It truly sickens me. Your poem is a strong one, breaks my heart.

  15. Sheila says:

    heart breaking tale. Just read an article about this topic in a recent National Geographic magazine. Your prose explains the cultural implications, but the poetry poignantly describes the young girl, an individual, a HUMAN being (not livestock), and her plight. So, so sad. The article I read reports that many of these young girls end up at the hospital hemmorhaging to death. An atrocity!

  16. nelle says:

    Stomach just soured.

  17. danadampier says:

    It saddens me that they have to live that kind of life so young… they can’t ever be children. I look at my six yr. old boy and think… never would he be old enough for adult responsibility. I wouldn’t want him to.

    Great piece!

    • Thanks, Dana. This is a horrific practice–these are children. Children not allowed to be children. Children hurt, scarred, dead early, and abused for the sake of what, for the sake of whom?

  18. ManicDdaily says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues too, Susan; so interesting to see your poem and perspective. I am not sure about the primal part – I think girls are really valued at such a low level in many parts of the world. It is pretty awful. I am sympathetic to poverty and other cultures, of course – and it’s all very complex, I agree – but there’s also just a huge amount of devaluing women and girls. Your poem works well, though. k.

  19. A good poem attracts great commentaries – and your poem once again illustrates this. well done, Susan!

  20. sonny says:

    i have two girls…10 and 6…and i live in india…as much as i like to believe…my country is changing..its really not….
    this resonated so deep….thank you…

  21. Green Speck says:

    You have exposed the pain and hurt so well !!!

  22. We still live in a world where females are still not valued.Orphanges in the third world
    country where I spend most of my time are mainly girls who are dumped on the doorstep (the lucky ones) In China female babies are found in dumpsters.A family will try harder to keep a boy because sons reign supreme.We are supposed to be pc in understanding the cultural complexities of certain arrangements. Why not call it for what it is …barbarism!

  23. Rhonda says:

    Nothing can be added to what has been said except this is so well done. And unimaginable to me. We’ve discussed this and I still shake my head thinking about it. Never mind the father in this situation…I put myself in the Mother’s place, knowing it’s possible when I birth a girl child…unimaginable.

  24. markwindham says:

    an excellent take on a tough subject. I would love to see where you go with this after revisions as it is already so very good.

  25. Piercing, poignant, true…the poem moves like a camera from the outside to the inside of one young girl…no blame, cold reality…cultural acceptance, and an organic knowledge and understanding that all of it is wrong. The poem does what a poem should do – it organically opens up the subject, peeling away one layer after another. Very important subject handled delicately.

  26. dani says:

    this is the fifth poem i’ve read tonight {all written by women} about the horrific treatment of girls and women all over the world, each one dealing with a different atrocity. i am heartbroken to think of the casual attitudes held by those in power in these countries, cultures, religions… yet i am trying to hold onto hope that voices of women like you are being heard.

  27. Sabio Lantz says:

    Ouch. A topic worth reminding us of. It even strikes home, as that mind is still seen but in subtler ways in this temporarily ‘civilized’ world.

    [write-if-you'd-like!]

  28. This is excellent, Susan. I felt like crying when reading it. Your voice is very powerful. Kudos.

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