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Noorulain Noor



Five times a day, the muezzin’s

sonorous call emerged from minarets

of the neighborhood mosque while pigeons

roosted in the half-moon of its dome,

he summoned supplicants with those words


            those words

I breathed through clamped teeth                                        

to find solace in devotion,

a contraction scissoring through me

the nurse’s sandpaper hands,

her gravelly voice, “It’s supposed to hurt” 


            “It’s supposed to hurt,”

my mother whispered, an anchor

of reassurance, her hand on her brother’s arm,

face clinical, but eyes leaping

between residues of the accident -

his mangled leg, his languid tears


            languid tears

the house heaved with

when they lifted my grandmother,

a son holding each leg of the charpoy,

and again, as the procession began -

a sea of white skullcaps, a jangle of prayer beads


           a jangle of prayer beads

drowned out by the shouts of two boys on a Sunday

morning in the courtyard of All Saints Church,

Peshawar, and a shower of ball-bearings bearing their flesh

demonstrated the cost of worship, interrupted:

127 dead, 250 injured in the wake of those words


            those words

I recite on bleak days still, Allah-u-Akbar,

folding them inward now, swallowing

the music, the meaning of each syllable,

a habitual remedy for my wayward faith,

a practice of humility, an offering of grace


* Published in Tethered Letters December, 14


Noorulain Noor is the Associate Editor of Papercuts, a publication of Desi Writers' Lounge Noorulain is a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spillway, Spry, Sugar Mule, ARDOR, aaduna, Santa Clara Review, Poydras Review, Apeiron Review, and other journals along with earning a nomination for the Pushcart Prize.

Bilingual Speech Therapy


Her speech is coarse at 33 months --

it crackles against my ears 

like the textured shell of walnuts 

breaking between molars

Or thick, garbled like sweet 

rice pudding, dotted pistachios

on its surface.

Often it disintegrates into cries --

her face smolders, defiance 

hardens her screams, her lips, her chin,

like the congealed film of milkfat on chai

that clings to china, to the roof of the mouth.


“Is OK a word?” 

I ask.

“Do songs count?”

I learn that they don’t.


“One language” is the consensus, 

the preliminary prescription. 

I do not ask if I must stop looking 

at her in Urdu --


those monsoons, that august fort, 

the rolling belly of the Indus 

always gather behind my withering glance.

I hold inside the name I call her,

the cloying scent of ripe mangoes, 

the taste of honeyed paratha, 

the sound of lassi lapping against 

the curve of a jug -- Mithi Mai -- Miss Sugar,

it tastes sweeter in the native tongue.


*Published in Santa Clara Review: Spring

Permanent Residency


My mother sings a voicemail

into the air --

her song reaches me hours later,

her hard-boiled Urdu becoming pliant 

in the low register of her voice. 

By now, the sun in its perennial journey,

has dwindled from her sight

and appeared outside my window, 

the tulips on the sill greet its powdery warmth --

her sky and mine, so different from each other.


They tell me the tomb in my old neighborhood

of a little-known saint was razed --

townhomes stand there now.

I don’t learn the fate of ardent prayers 

in many textures -- yarn, pieces of cloth, twine --

tied to a weary flagstaff at the threshold.

Years ago, like nascent hope, those strings fluttered

in the fragrant breeze of early evening,

swayed in the shadow of a lemon tree --

gone, too.


My father doesn’t dwell on nostalgia --

instead, he says something about cholesterol 

and hypertension, 

about the body diminishing with age,

we talk as though there is no ocean parting us, 

and yet the distance invokes itself in innocent ways --

he sits at his breakfast table

while I prepare his granddaughter for bed,

we exist in different days of the week

for twelve hours each day.


They tell me Amma Daani has died --

the old woman who went from house to house,

massaging almond oil into the scalp of children,

kneading their limbs, tut-tutting over how little they ate, 

and then cutting fat wedges of mangoes for each child.

She died peacefully, they tell me,

her sons were with her, 

she was not alone,

but no child she had cared for

could make it to the funeral.


*Published in Sant Clara Review: Spring

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