Issue #10

    We (Q/A) were so moved and enthralled by the poems submitted by Rita Mookerjee that we have dedicated the entire issue to showcasing three of her poems.

    Dead New York

    It’s garbage night when some kids pull up on me and my friends

    in an East Village bar. They’re high on something and falling on the floor

    drunk, saying shit like “Bro, my friend’s cousin hosted

    a Bon Iver concert in her backyard.”

    It pains me to begrudge people a good time,

    but these kids are insufferable: whooping, high-fiving, shaking small tits

    adorned with Pride stickers. One girl whips her top off. A boy drools

    and takes some photos. I lose my temper when they start talking trash,

    calling us old and lame, though we are. I earned my right

    to sit with a whiskey swapping work stories with my college friends

    because we used to come to the Village on that same block.

    The old liquor store is still there; I wonder if the owners still

    pretend to card. Besides Boots and Saddle, all my old spots are gone:

    the martini bar with its swivel chairs, the dark dive

    off Washington Square Park, La Zarza on 1st Ave.

    They’d move tables and chairs for a makeshift dance floor, charged us $20 a head

    to grind on each other, since we were underage.

    The drinks were shit but damn, we could dance.

    I sense that New York is gone when one of the drunk girls leers in my face:

    What’s your problem? Tell me. Is English your second language?

    I remember myself at a fresh 21, white rum drunk with my crew.

    It didn’t occur to us to pick fights, because all we wanted was to get good

    and lit so we could laugh about our massive student loans,

    and wear combat boots with lingerie, and taste each other’s sweat.

    I’d trace the boys’ eyes in black liner, smudge it out with my pinky

    so it wouldn’t run from the heat. I know my New York is gone

    when the leering girl puts her hands on my shoulders, then on my purse.

    One moon-eyed kid chatters that I need a man, and maybe if he shoved

    three fingers, then his fist in me, I’d loosen up and want to have fun.

    So much for Pride, so much for that place,

    only a memory. Pills stick in my throat as I mourn my New York,

    a place that died about four years ago. Today, I’m glad I left.

    I spend my days writing, not dancing. There are no gay bars here,

    I have fewer friends, and we get winedrunk

    at home to talk politics on their sectional couches.

    Now I avoid college bars and concerts and young people

    high on the promise of a fight like the ones the bartender kicks out

    before pouring me a double. He says I’m sorry as

    I stroke the sweat of the glass. Behind the bar, a drain gurgles.

    About Indian Hair

    for Trina


    My father insists that as Sikhs, we should not have haircuts.

    My sister doesn’t get one until she is six.

    Though I mock the cape that covers

    her back and frizzes in the rain,

    I secretly prefer her hair to mine.

    In the sunlight, her hair has

    a red sheen like Coca-Cola.

    It lies in ringlets near her ears and temples

    and for this reason, I steal a snippet of it when she is busied

    with dolls and hide it in a silk-lined box

    that holds a marble replica of the Taj Mahal.

    It sits like a new tier atop the tiny onion dome.


    My mother says the sight of my uncleaned

    hairbrush makes her want to vomit,

    that it is my duty to pull the soiled silk

    through the teeth and into the trash.

    After she has scraped my hair high onto the ball

    of my skull, she ponytails it, sprays the curls with water,

    adds a big ribbon to hide the elastic.

    My sister gets a braid ending in a perfect spiral.


    I don’t find it strange that my mother

    does my hair until I sleep over at a friend’s and realize

    that I do not know how to manage these sopping locks

    For some reason, that ritual has been kept from me.


    On TV, I watch the wigmakers rake

    raw hair across an apparatus

    that looks like a torture device:

    a block of wood full of raised needles

    while somewhere in Gujarat, deep in a temple garden

    girls wait to make offerings from long braids not knowing

    that the inky twists will be swept up

    and sewn into wefts / weaves / wigs for faraway women to claim and lay.

    From the temple floor, they take scraps and strip away the spiky refuse.

    I can’t help but feel a wet yank on my scalp

    while I watch the wigmakers work the hair hard and fast across the tools.

    I wonder how there is any left when they finish.

    Later some reporters walk deep into a jungle

    to meet a woman who is growing her hair

    to sell. She needs to buy food for her family.

    She smiles wide and says that giving up her hair will make her very sad.

    Hard Water

    My sister thinks people follow her,

    so my parents take her to a ward where

    her roommate is a hornet. At lunch,

    a man frowns into the payphone

    for ages, shakes my father’s hand

    and invites him to the CIA.

    No one is young, everyone is white.

    Most of the women are there to detox.

    I wonder who comes to collect them

    when they check out. The place is loud.

    A book, stuffed animals, and lip balm:

    the totems on my sister’s nightstand

    are all I think of now, 1000 miles away from her.

    I learn that the water is hard,

    and makes her skin flake

    at the scalp for weeks.

    On the phone, she sounds parched,

    and I remember her voice, high

    and breathless when we’d get

    offstage from The Nutcracker,

    how I’d squeeze the warm orb

    of her shoulder and reapply her

    lipstick for photos. We’d eat fruit

    in the car after and doze off,

    chatting. Now I wonder if

    she gets any sleep at all.

    In a luckless turn,

    my sister’s arms and legs inflate

    with fluid and slog at her sides

    as she rolls onto the bed.

    It’s probably from the lithium.

    I send her packages of weed

    and body lotion, the latter

    a flimsy comfort. I daydream

    of our midnight snacks,

    mimosas and brie, and pray at gods-to-be

    to fling this curse on someone else, please.

    Rita Mookerjee is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Iowa State University. Her poetry is featured in Aaduna, GlitterMOB, Sinister Wisdom, Berfrois, and Cosmonauts Avenue. She is the author of the chapbook Becoming the Bronze Idol (Bone & Ink Press, 2019). She is a poetry staff reader for The Southeast Review and [PANK]. You can find her on Instagram @melanincholia