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  • Lahore
    The city becomes a fresco painted on fragile glass,
    past the slums,
    bone-carved children racing the train,
    past identical, yellow residences,
    the parapeted houses of civil servants,
    past, sunburnt mosques in the
    skyline, their domes the color of dirty gold,
    past the railway level crossing,
    cows tied to poles and a makeshift masseur palpating a man’s
    temples, past the vegetable market,
    burlap sacks piled high against a wall,
    past vehicular bullies competing for primal dominance,
    past the legless man dragging himself,
    with his bare hands against the gravel,
    past enormous billboards with plump, fair-skinned families,
    past the derelict beauty of the walled city: the narrow
    streets and profusion of busy feet,
    past shaded jharokas, precarious verandahs with
    broken filigreed windows, past the smoke rising from tukkatuk
    past the relentless rhythm of tortured meat,
    past the lonely lanes of high walled mansions,
    at the city’s limits: gated communities with fences,
    lined with brittle glass, past the pulse of privilege beating
    like a steady heart,
    past the gray wasteland of industry,
    blackened brick kilns, cement factories,
    political jibes painted on the walls,
    past fields ripe with lazy, yellow,
    mustard, past the sluggish Ravi,
    past the condensation,
    of breath on the window; past the metallic
    scent of wet earth,
    past the body soaking rain like a tea-leaf
    immersed in flawless, white porcelain,
    Lahore gains momentum,
    Lahore hurtles into linear time,
    in all the windows, all the time,
    its bone-broken bodies,
    its red-brick walls,
    its million souls,
    pass; for twenty years.
    the tired reel has run its
    alternating sequence of
    light. shadow. light.
    and shadow,
    on my face.

    Hair is erasing hair,
    on our skin, our arms, our feet, even
    our toes, or growing in wholesome
    bunches, in our ears; the occasional rogue
    hair that keeps protruding from our noses,
    hair is picking at the fuzz on our upper lips,
    Hair is subduing hair,
    which bridge the gap between our brows;
    But hair is also keeping hair,
    And letting them grow wild and tangled,
    hair is the promise
    of hair crumpled and lovely,
    in scarves like spring flowers
    pressed between the leaves of a diary;
    Hair is massaging hair with almond oil,
    the long, lean fingers of my
    grandmother working her admonishments,
    into my scalp,
    hair is never cutting long tresses,
    hair is the sin of chopped hair;
    Hair is knowing which hair to keep,
    and which to lose; which to never show,
    which to never cut and which to mercilessly slice,
    hair is weeping at the loss of certain hair,
    and certain terminal illnesses but being glad,
    at the stifled growth of others,
    hair is when to let the hair down
    and when to hide them,
    hair is memorizing all the rules of hair.

    Father Tongue
    My father in Karachi; his Urdu
    expands like the widest sea;
    Words roll from his tongue— like chuna, like katha —
    words that we have not heard in years,
    he stretches himself like the seagulls circling Hawk’s Bay,
    he is constantly on the go: at Netty Jetty, Nursery or Nazimabad,
    He polishes old jokes in Clifton, eats golgappay
    outside Dayaram Jethmal College,
    He sucks bits of ice at Agha Juice; cool slices of mango,
    sooth his gums, his mouth moves differently in Karachi,
    Urdu, chaste Urdu, his mother’s Urdu
    rolls from his Punjabi tongue,
    He smokes the city like a cigar,
    with the verve of a man half his age,
    my father in Karachi;
    My father in Lahore sometimes takes refuge
    in his starched white shirts and his Zeitgeist suits,
    His mother’s Urdu does a quick somersault
    in his mouth and crouches, instead he speaks,
    textbook Urdu using out of turn
    phrases and rare figures of speech,
    he makes Punjabis feel really Punjabi and really coarse,
    But when retired bureaucrats exchange jokes
    in chuckling Punjabi at Gymkhana Club,
    he often misses the punchline,
    He is deep like the Ravi but lost in translation;
    Something about the city, the smell of gasoline
    mingled with the smell of sweet peas,
    makes him speak his mother’s Urdu again,
    the womanish lilt returns to his lips;
    My father in Lahore sheds his Zeitgeist suits,
    in the evening; He eats chikkar cholay and
    tells us its keecher not chikkar,
    My father in Lahore slices contaminants
    of Punjabi from his children’s tongues;
    My father in Kuala Lumpur speaks,
    a variety of English which tries to become Urdu,
    Urdu words dance on the tip of his tongue;
    They grow from the arc of his jawbone,
    from the space between his teeth;
    He constantly gets lost in the city;
    He finds Pakistani tea-shops where the tea
    is never as warm, or as fragrant as in Lahore;
    He counsels tea boys on life, on marriage;
    He talks to strangers with a degree
    of intimacy they find uncomfortable;
    He befriends Malay men on the metro;
    He converses with South Indian taxi drivers;
    He spends more time with the Nepalese security guard
    than with me, my mother complains;
    So he draws himself within himself;
    His mother’s Urdu dries on his tongue,
    He watches snakes circling in the grass,
    He watches cats climbing the hot walls at noon,
    He sees men with sun-tanned, sea-exposed
    skins, men with bleached hair;
    Men who know the sharpness of the sea;
    Another city murmurs beneath his skin, momentarily;
    Another city grows from the smell of sea-salt;
    An old taste moves on his tongue;
    An exiled language tumbles into his mouth,
    but he pushes it back,
    back into the fluorescent sea, its melancholic black
    waves, back into its jagged cliffs
    and wide rocks.

    About The Author

    Rakhshan Rizwan

    Rakhshan Rizwan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and then moved to Germany where she studied Literature and New Media. She is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Papercuts, Cerebration, Muse India, The Missing Slate, Postcolonial Text, Yellow Chair Review and The Ofi Press. She is the winner of the Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize.