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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

and underneath 

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.

Standstill

 

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.

Unrequited

 

There are throngs of us out there, waiting 

for the insignificance of a touch, 

or a nod, or our own unbidden, uncontained

trembling, seeing 

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

Microcosm

 

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

Welcomepilots fastenyourseatbelts 

andkeepyourarms insidetheairplane.

The cotton candy man walking the perimeter

of the square,

the parents, looking different and the same,

their white grins, their flailing hands,

camera clicks, 

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.

Plural

 

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.