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
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.
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