Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

The Slave-Girl

Maybe she wore her hair in long charcoal tresses,
fallen wisps tucked and re-tucked
behind an ear when she was nervous.
Maybe she walked alone in the desert
when she wasn’t scouring clay pots,
perspiring over fires,
grinding her knees into the ground
while brushing flecks of dirt from the entrance,
her darkened skin peeling and burning in the Arabian sun.


Jade eyes wide and bright,
boyish figure only now budding,
slave to the poor woodcutter, Ali Baba.
He was an honest man, they told her.
As honest as the day was long,
and the summer days felt very long
in the dust and dry heat of the desert.

Iftah ya Simsim! *

Felling firewood,
Ali Baba chanced upon the secret cave,
heard the magic words.
It was too much for poor Ali Baba.
He took away the gold,
and as many gems as he could hold.

The thieves came for Ali Baba,
but his slave-girl foiled them again and again,
killing the thieves in the night.

Did she think while cracking eggs
for breakfast the next day,
about the heads she had cracked open,
the round smoothness splitting
into a yolky redness,
viscous liquid running down to their necks?
Did she burn Ali Baba’s toast
when she thought about how small they’d seemed,
huddled in the oil barrels,
where they rested before their intended attack?

Morgiana performed the dagger dance for Ali Baba,
demeaning herself as the slave-girl once more.
Her hips oscillated to the drumbeats
as the head thief stood disguised among the guests.
She writhed and twisted through the crowd
until she reached him.
She struck out with all she had—
the dagger pierced his heart.

Morgiana was forever loyal to her honest master.
Her jade eyes grew tired from saving him,
lines crinkling around the faded green.
Ali Baba rewarded her with freedom
and marriage to his son:
a different kind of bondage.

* Arabic. Commonly written as “Open Sesame” in English.

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