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Monsoons in Lahore
After I left Lahore, all I wanted to do was go back. I missed the people, my father’s
surreptitious singing, my mother’s crow calls to the sabzi-wallah, the sound of bed linens
rustling as my sisters moved in their sleep, but mostly, my body constricted with an ache for
the monsoons. Rain in California, when it comes, is so temperate and courteous like
Americans who smile at everyone on the street. It patters on the asphalt that always looks
like it was poured yesterday and slides right off. In Lahore, the monsoons were
stereotypically Punjabi. My father would shake his head at the beastly rains ripping through
his bougainvillea and sigh, “Chor machaye shor,” this burglar makes a noise. The earthy
wind whipped across our faces as rain fell in thick massive droplets over tin roofs and
cement terraces. My sisters and I ran upstairs to greet the rain. Sometimes we even sang in
the rain. Our mother went looking for us in the rain after she noticed the unscheduled
silence. We grinned at each other with blue lips and chattering teeth, raising our eyebrows –
a pact to dance in the rain again as soon as we could get Mama out of the house.
All year, water receded from the River Ravi, fishermen fretted, couples walked farther along
the riverbank to find a canoe for their moonlit wedding sail. And then the monsoons
descended, tearing across Punjab. Cities tolerated the rain stolidly – once or twice, we heard
about a motorcyclist driving right into an open manhole and dying, but for the most part, we
simply saw vehicles filling with water and breaking down in the middle of Mall Road,
nothing serious. Ravi swelled with surging waters once again. A dam in some remote village
crumbled. Scores of farms and families washed away. Safe, but shaken in Lahore,
neighborhood aunties gathered around hawkers and their donkey-carts at the Sunday
bazaar. They lamented the use of adulterated material in the construction of the doomed
dam – it was all over the papers – and broke apart ginger root in their hands to examine it
from the inside. Days later, bloated babies were unearthed from the mud, mosquitoes started
breeding in the standing water, and the poor began to die all over again, lined up outside
government hospitals, their blood infested with dengue or malaria or Hep C – too many
poisons for a poor man in this country. Builders and politicians made pledges toward the
flood relief effort, curling their bureaucratic mustaches, rubbing their fat bellies, choking
stacks of rupees in their congested leather wallets, and sipping bottled water from long-
stemmed glasses at charity benefits for victims of the flood with their prim wives who no
longer loved them.
Still, I missed those rains, the full-throated thunder, the insensitive winds, and the clarity of
the morning after – a few raindrops shedding from freshly picked jasmine, earthworms
slithering on the garage floor, ghee sputtering in a wok on the stove, Mama making samosas
because an abrasive draught had whistled through the iron window panes all night, and we
needed fried comfort food to quell our restive spirits. She fished them out with a slotted
spoon and placed them on newspapers to dry. The grease seeped into the headlines to
occlude the number of corpses discovered by rescue workers.
No Salt and Pepper Kind of People
Like a prayer,
I bring my hands to my face now --
these fingertips could be my mother’s,
gliding over my face on a school day
with Ponds cold cream thick on her palms
the perennial scent of garlic and ginger.
“We are not salt and pepper kind of people,”
my mother would say.
My own fingers
smell even fuller from the fenugreek
I grate between them, crushing
the dried leaves to powder.
I rub my nails with steel wool,
soak my hands in lemon water,
use creams with essential oils --
wild rose, mulled wine, cocoa butter --
to curtain the aromas of my mother’s kitchen,
and now mine.
After a time,
my skin sheds these fancy trims.
Next to her hospice bed,
we hold our private vigils,
the wait implicit in each prayer.
On the day our wait ends,
there is fog clawing the hilltops.
Inside, someone wheezes the shutters open,
her gardenias are not in bloom, her chappals
rest against the wall, a grave outline
of her toes on the leather.
The sun is bleak today.
We cover the windows.
There are throngs of us out there, waiting
for the insignificance of a touch,
or a nod, or our own unbidden, uncontained
ourselves as the crevices
in parched land hungering
to be sealed with rain, gulping
air in sustained breaths, a fist forever
unclenching mid-throat, our bodies
yielding, bruising in blue blooms
of despair around knees, thighs, the heels of our feet,
our inner ears unlearning the masterful
act of balancing, lips forming
words without the grace of complete thought,
eyes roving like a rogue wave before breaking
on that one face, nothing extraordinary about it,
but that deep caving within our chests --
wanting, wanting, wanting
It’s a loop, really,
the cotton candy man walking the perimeter
of the square,
the induced glee on parents’ faces,
the manic way in which they wave
to their children rising round and round
in primary-colored airplanes,
high notes of a string instrument
playing the same 30-second melody on repeat,
the disenchanted voice on the loudspeaker
The cotton candy man walking the perimeter
of the square,
the parents, looking different and the same,
their white grins, their flailing hands,
that garbled announcement delivered too fast
without tonal variation.
The children, different and the same,
with sun hats and backpacks and hair
whipping with the wind.
I watch them with the curiosity of an anthropologist --
what are these creatures, how are they so happy,
is their happiness real if it is has a boundary?
Until someone pulls on my arm,
“Mommy, let’s go.” She has a bag of kettle corn
clutched under one arm.
And I dissolve into the many faces around me --
it’s a fluid journey from observer to participant,
my lips stretch across my jaw,
my child goes in circles on a yellow airplane,
and in a frenzy I call her name over and over,
my voice rising above the centrifugal wind,
beckoning her with a hand in the air, a springy bounce in my feet,
the camera clicking away.
Just like that -- I am one of them.
I kneel in prayer, my ask is simple --
satisfaction of serial singularity:
singular love and singular health
and singular mortgage on a singular house
and singular luck and singular triumph
and singular peace in this singular world
and, and, and
Noorulain is a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and a two time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has appeared in Spillway, Sugar Mule, Santa Clara Review, and other journals. Raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Noorulain now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her poetry explores the broad themes of identity, multiculturalism, and the immigrant experience.