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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


I.

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.


II.

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.


III.

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.


IV.

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