The Demon, The Cookie, and the Daughter on Fire

May 31, 2024 | 2024 Summer - More than One Letter, Poetry

By Mary Salome


…rather than negating passion, desire, and sexuality, one can transmute them. This… is indeed what allows the bodhisattva, in various Buddhist scriptures, to indulge in sex without being defiled by it. In the Suragama-sutra, for instance, a bodhisattva makes love to the daughters of the demon Mara in order to save them.

—Bernard Faure, The Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality


Part I: The Demon

I glazed one nipple with honey,

the other with warm butter.

I cupped my breasts.

I offered him sweet.

I offered him salty.

He had no tongue.


Reality was more tepid: a modest admission, my arm brushing his. I was coming out—to myself first—as bisexual rather than lesbian in my fourth decade. He jerked away as if I had burned him. I felt contaminated in some way, and sad, because I was sure that what I had to offer him was pretty cool.

I took my little sadness and slinked away, thinking about the demon Mara and his daughters. Mara sent his three daughters to tempt the Buddha as he sat under the bodhi tree nearing enlightenment, but the Buddha was not distracted from his goal. Mara’s daughters are rarely named, their identities hidden behind their father’s. I wanted to know their names because they deserve to be known, but I also wanted to know if I am named after one.


Part II: The Daughter

In some places, Mara’s daughters are named Craving, Aversion, and Passion. I’d like to suggest a fourth daughter: Purity. There is something that feels pure about the heat I feel when it accompanies love. It feels to me like it can burn away fear, denial, and shame. Purity does not demand reciprocity, and Purity does not abhor Craving, Aversion, or Passion. Purity accepts them completely, transforming them in the process.

If I were to touch my own arm, I would not pull away.

I felt humiliated when I showed up full of love and desire and the object of my affection wouldn’t touch me. Looking back, though, I see my actions shine. Being brave in the face of desire, asking for what I wanted, and being willing to live with the consequences of not getting it: these were fine efforts. I prefer to live my life, take risks, and not be afraid to look the fool. I’m willing to try, to change, to be seen, and to be vulnerable in my changing. I think it’s beautiful and I feel like I’m alive.


Part III: The Cookie

I admit to clinging to a scrap of the idea that he would have been perfect for me if only I could have gotten around his unavailability. But he is his unavailability. He does not exist without his barriers to me. Since what I’m talking about here is partly appetite, I’ll put it this way: he’s not a cookie that I could eat if I could only get it out of the wrapper. The cookie and the wrapper are one. The wrapper is the cookie.

I want, and I dare say I deserve, a cookie that will unwrap itself for me.

I just compared a person to a pastry, so perhaps my purity is clouded after all. If he’s the temptation, though, maybe I’m not Mara’s daughter. Maybe he is, stopping to erect his charms in the formerly lesbian Pure Land of my morning meditation. It certainly was a simpler life without men in it, but the complication can’t be disentangled now. True to form, Purity demands that they be integrated, and heat is the only force that can bring about that alchemical change.

When Mara’s daughters couldn’t seduce the Buddha, what did they do? Where did they take all that heat? I’m no bodhisattva, but I know enough to at least ask the names of the demons I invite to bed. Of all of Mara’s children, I think I’ll recognize Purity first. She’ll be the daughter on fire.


Mary Salome (she/her) is a queer Arab- and Irish-American writer and media activist who lives in San Francisco. Her prose and poetry have been published in Food for our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, Solstice: A Winter Anthology Vol. 2, Archive of the Odd, and SPROUT: An Eco-Urban Poetry Journal, among others. Her short story “Okami in the Bayview” was nominated for a WSFA Small Press Award.

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