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  • Holiday House

     

    She traced circles on her palm as she told

    us the stories of her youth and the fold

    in the fabric of history that broke

    a nation, birthed two, and many a folk-

    tale of love and triumph, battle and loss,

    and back to the time she walked across

    an intangible border in the land,

    the signature of a powerful hand.

    The gas heater blazed on those winter eves,

    in its labored warmth we watched her weave

    long narratives of happiness and grief,

    with a side of peanuts and hunter beef.

    Her heavy velvet quilt smelled of mothballs

    and rosewater. Her plush pashmina shawls

    rested thickly folded on her oak bureau –

    she tapped it with her nails, a staccato

    rhythm, rising and waning with her stories.

    The room with its oily glow, and the breeze

    stealing through the bamboo shutters, hissing,

    running through our cold fingers, carrying

    the rich scent of jasmines and wood polish,

    gliding over us, and the wainscoting

    that creaked in chorus when she stopped speaking,

    told us that she had left something unsaid –

    was it about life? Was it about death?

    Atonement

     

    I carefully curved you in an arc,
    your eyes and the wrinkle between them,
    bathed you in India ink and rolled you thin,
    sewed you into patterns, into poems.

    Now, I dream of using the tip of my blunt needle
    and my pinpricked thumb
    to release you from this prison of my creation,
    and let you diffuse away like jasmine scent
    carried by our old city’s heavy-handed breezes.

    Maybe I would find you then
    on an indistinguishable road of this metropolis,
    see you from afar and recognize
    your eyes and the wrinkle between them,
    the one I sewed and kissed and loved. But,
    in the clamor of people and their voices,
    will you hear me when I call your name?

    I could just as easily lose you
    in foreign faces on foreign shores,
    if I unstitch each stitch
    in rough canvases of old and new poems,
    without form, without borders, without even origins.

    I have nested too long in this land of polite distance
    where I found you, at last.
    I have forgotten
    the city where mule carts roam the streets
    and horse-drawn carriages swerve amidst cars,
    the smells of recycled oil, street food,
    the sight of naked children in monsoon rain,
    old lessons and sweltering summers –
    all lost in my penance of piecing you together
    stitch by stitch.

    Perhaps atonement lies in searching
    for a way that takes me back
    to the city in which we were born but not acquainted,
    to pigeon cages and henna-covered virgin hands,
    to you in your youth without the wrinkle
    between your eyes,
    to me in my youth without the grief
    I have penned.

    Now, I begin to unthread each word,
    cut loose each suture,
    so you can find your way home –
    but remember
    our childhoods we left behind
    in the city of Ravi, of jasmines, of monsoons.

    I will make my way back,
    defenseless on air currents or in a stoic ocean liner,
    traversing my fears over thousands of miles.
    And then I will find you again
    where I was meant to find you the first time – years ago –
    amidst the pale pungency of smells and sights that we will relearn,
    among native faces and rutted roads and littered rivers,
    a chance meeting between two poets.

    Weatherman

     

    “And which way does the wind blow,”
    I ask him.

    He carefully tears a sheet from his book,
    and blows it away in slices –
    one end of the page in his mouth,
    his fingers changing its landscape,
    his breath giving it wings.

    Words, like tiny insects,
    slanting and beetle-black,
    dance in the air,
    kiss the billowing grass,
    descend into the valley.

    They don’t even make a sound.

    He plucks a verse
    from my hair.
    An incoherent line
    ripples on it
    like a dismembered ant.

    “Downward, it seems,” he lets go.
    It flies behind its comrades
    as if to prove a point.

    About The Author

    noorulain noor

    Noorulain Noor

    Noorulain Noor is a clinical researcher at Stanford University and the poetry editor of Papercuts, a literary magazine brought out by Desi Writers Lounge. Her work has appeared in ARDOR literary magazine, The Bangalore Review, and other publications. Raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Noorulain now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she leads poetry workshops, blogs, and writes on the broad themes of identity, multiculturalism, and the immigrant experience.