Night of the Mosquito and Other Poems

    By Sophia Naz

    Night of the Mosquito

    I am body, lonely prey
    You, a wave, warrior tribe.

    We are a battle fought
    night after night on

    porous borders, sound
    of one hand slapping

    sleepless grounds, worn out –
    posts of sheets where blood –

    sucking toes the line.
    Majoritarian macchar* versus

    embattled khatmal,* I am
    hounded by sirens, marooned

    by yet another dig, in
    what’s left over of my skin.

    macchar ( mosquito) and khatmal ( bedbug) are slang for Sunni and Shia

    Onion

    History – an onion dome
    Layer upon layer, delicate flesh

    Severed in a single stroke
    Served in a beating drum

    A disappearance lingers
    on our tongues.

    Blackout Windows

    What I remember most about the war are the blackout windows. Behind their blinded frames come alarms warning of night time curfews and close upon their heels, wails of air raid sirens.

    Time is a woman with the longest hair.

    Smack dab in the middle of the Services Club, air conditioned plush, hush, polished gleaming teak, with powder blue chairs and leather bar stools, strictly off limits to children in peacetime, and now the bomb shelter.

    I am stranded, a tiny snippet.

    Helping to make the blackout windows with khaki masking tape and newspapers whose headlines distort in the reflection of phuppi jaan’s coke-bottle thick glasses as she cuts the paper.

    So easy for a loose leaf to lose its place in the landscape, the near and distant cyclone

    My girl fingers, nimble at packing relief supplies, lean into the smell of wool blankets, beads of moisture collecting tears on the transparent cheeks of plastic bags filled with donated clothes.

    I think dictionary means airy diction.

    My head is humid. Words mushroom and cloud in the drip feed of overheard adult conversations. Oblivious to danger in the darkening skies I wander off here and mostly there, among the banyans. Everyone is around and no one has eyes. I go up the stairs, having already met the young air force cadet who, when I say young, ws fully adult, perhaps in his early twenties and I perhaps a girl of six or seven.

    Abba starts with the letter a for absence

    My nickname was Olive Oyl but of course how would he know that or the distinct feeling I have of being airborne when I skip atop the brick borders of the Club lawns. I collect stamps, seashells and names of birds. I stare at the ocean.

    How do you separate water from water?

    When my mother can no longer condense her grief into couplets or spread it out in cotton-soft notes in the winter sunlight for all to hear or see, she curls like a nautilus into the maroon stupor of Codeine Cough Syrup and spends the hot afternoon dead to the world.

    I run up the stairs into the absolutely forbidden terrain of the Bachelors Quarters at the back of the Club and everything could have gone so wrong but all that happens is that an angel-faced young man asks if I have heard of the Beatles and I say no and he puts on a record and lo, and so cool I am living in a yellow submarine.

    A window is a sheet of paper on which the outside and the inside write their lines, sometimes congruent, often conflicting.

    A blackout window is the heavy handed felt tip of a censor’s marker. The sun flickers and is finally snuffed out in the sea, I don’t notice, lost in the Fab Four. The air raid siren goes off. A cheek is virgin until it is slapped.

    Memory is the ultimate blackout window

    Sophia Naz Sophia Naz is a bilingual poet, artist, author, editor and translator. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize; in 2016 for creative nonfiction and in 2018 for poetry. Her work features in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Poets, The Night Heron Barks, Singing in the Dark:A Global Anthology of Poetry Under Lockdown, Berfrois, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Rattle, The Punch Magazine, Poetry At Sangam, Poetry International Rotterdam, The Adirondack Review, The Wire, Chicago Quarterly Review, Blaze Vox, Scroll, The Daily O, Cafe Dissensus, RAIOT, Ideas And Futures, Chapati Mystery, Guftugu, Pratik, Gallerie International, Coldnoon, VAYAVYA, The Bangalore Review, Papercuts, Madras Courier, The Yearbook of Indian Poetry and many others. She has authored the poetry collections; Peripheries (Cyberhex 2015), Pointillism (Copper Coin 2017) Date Palms (City Press 2017) Open Zero (Yoda Press 2021), and Shehnaz, a biography (Penguin Random House 2019). Her fifth poetry collection, Bark Archipelago, has just published from Weavers Press San Francisco.

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