Noorulain Noor


I dream of prodigal glee 
that comes with doing something forbidden
under the pretense of a household chore.
A plastic bucket filled with water, 
toppled with a fierce kick - 
and the kick - so vivid now after twenty years,
the impact of my small foot,
the thrust of the knee, the instinctive step
a palpable thud, spillage 
on the concrete floor of the garage,
that satisfying rush.

I dream of hours spent watching 
small tributaries branch away from me,
iridescent in the light of the sun
until the shadow of the peepul tree
starts to congeal the puddles 
into asphalt-grey sleet,
viscous, denser,
the water morphs,
creates tiny fissures in the
topography of the garage floor
and swallows come back to roost
fidget in their nest beside the skylight,
the thin twigs and moss of their home
grinding against the glass. 

In my dream, that sound 
is like a stray russet leaf 
dragging across the window pane,
or a throaty whisper moist against my ear,
or a fingernail scratching against fabric,
gentle, deliberate.
I hear this murmur,
an almost involuntary hiss escaping
thick lips pursed together, secretive
and salacious at once, redolent 
of the beginnings of a summer windstorm -
its only the stupid swallows, I tell myself,
only the stupid swallows.



The Cartographer


The river I wanted to touch 

and the fisherman on its bank


foggy as a December night

when your breath thickens and forms

white puffs from a tightened throat. 

A fort not far from its shores,

on the stone floors of which

I read Yeats and dreamed

of cohesive endings, of kinship,

of struggle and triumph. 

Narrow alleys with food vendors and gutters

and four-walled tombs 

of anonymous saints,

where worshippers tied pieces of yarn

to poles erected in unobtrusive corners

such power in unfulfilled prayers. 

A house in the mediocre part of town,

with terracotta pots in the front yard

and jasmine plants in bloom

the house that holds 

my childhood, old loves, incomplete tragedies. 


Sitting in a car that smells new

and always a little foreign, 

I draw these maps

on the back on my hand,

on paper napkins,

on receipts of this year's Christmas shopping. 

The house, the plants, the fort, the tombs, the river, 

and I scramble the order each time

a perverse pleasure inherent

in the entropy of this act, 

even on gossamer sheets of paper

and the robust skin of my hand, 

bearing a semblance to the evolution 

of the cartographer

scattered, disarrayed,

a labyrinth of chaos, 

and loss in the ink of a ballpoint pen.



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.

Posted on May 14, 2015 .