Mehnaz Turner was born in Pakistan and raised in southern California. She is a 2009 PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry. Her story, “The Alphabet Workbook”, is forthcoming in the August 2010 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her poems have appeared in publications such as Asia Writes, The Journal of Pakistan Studies, Cahoots Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, Desilit Magazine, and An Anthology of California Poets. She is currently at work on her first poetry manuscript, Tongue-tied: A Memoir in Poems. To learn more about Mehnaz, visit her at www.mehnazturner.blogspot.com
This morning a bird mugged me,
its beak pecking at my hair for twine.
The oven mugged my ginger cake
this evening. After thirty-four minutes,
it was shaped like a canyon.
For years, Iraq’s mugged the television,
oil hungry despots have mugged Iraq.
Last night, the sky mugged
by 1200 clouds, signaled an apocalypse.
California’s mugged my Pakistani roots,
mugged every square inch of Lahore out of me.
My mother says, nothing can mug a person’s
memories. I say, the empty suitcases
in my closet have mugged my optimism.
The last time I tried to visit Lahore,
the airline mugged my ticket, the computers
had mugged my reservation. In London,
I had to make a U-turn.
That December I spent two solitary weeks
reading in my apartment. The homes
in Ventura had been mugged by Christmas lights.
Snowmen with carrot noses grinned
clown-like on the front lawns.
One night, near midnight, I drove
around town looking for something to mug.
My pockets were empty. I hadn’t spoken
Urdu in months. I ended up at a diner
where a shiny waitress brought me a mug
of coffee. When she asked about my eyes,
I told her they were waiting to look
at everything I’d ever lost.
Once when I was sixteen, I was mugged
after mosque. A philosophy book shot an arrow
through every minaret I’d seen. Snow gathered
around my heart. For years, it seems, I’ve been
scraping pans, drinking fire, dodging birds.
That night, I couldn’t escape menace.
I stared down at the dripping faucet
in my kitchen, cursing under my breath.
The evening had been a fickle light bulb.
A long conversation with my mother sparked
by the flame of our tongues, the phone
heavy in my hands as the light seesawed
on and off. The whole house shook like
the belly of a lamp nudged by a careless hip.
I had worn a night like this before where
darkness thickened behind the shades, where
I was the skin and the veil, the neck
and the wrench. I spotted a spider teasing
out a web in my dining room, and later
sifting through saris in the closet, my fingers
pressed over dust, and I imagined each garment
in the tomb of its own unwearing,
like the weeks when no light bulbs glowed
inside me, and there were piles of memories
on my desk. I had managed with my khakis
and cotton tees, the odd dress which suggested
I had the fleeting charm of a tourist.
But that night, in Los Angeles, I made sure
to touch the green-lipped hems, even the turquoise
shawl my mother handed me once as a wish.
Scarf by scarf, shoe by shoe, I spelled a prayer
with my hands, making everything new,
even the belts and the caps. Even that too small
ruffled skirt I once bought from a clothing store in Lahore
with all the white of a summer cloud
between my eyes, light fusing with my breath.
China Silk Shoes
I womaned my way into fourteen pairs in the rack.
Three more in the coat closet and four under my bed.
My husband hums the math, skims a puzzled look
over my feet. His favorites include the red sneakers
and flamenco heels. Men are simple, he says with
a shake of his head, as if complexity were a tarot deck.
And I wave through the twin response: part zen
teacher, part succubus. How can I explain that city
women live in the clickity-click of their imaginations.
The sidewalk’s a runway, a yellow carpet spilling
into countries of leaf. How can I explain, when there
are the other days I wish I could pivot barefoot
through the weeks. But my soles would grow restless.
Nothing like a leather strap over each ankle to make
the dinner wine taste like meat. It’s not just a pair
of shoes. It’s that weeping woman in Picasso’s oil
on canvas, getting up and stepping out. She gives her
hips a purposeful shake. I’m headed crimson, she says,
reaching into a kitchen bowl to grab a handful of cherries,
before she puts on her china-silk shoes and colors free.