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,
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,
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 -
it’s only the stupid swallows, I tell myself,
only the stupid swallows.
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—
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.