June Poem of the Month — Mehnaz Sahibzada

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APA’S PAINTING

1.
I ask my mother about Apa’s painting
in English, she answers in Urdu, then it’s
my turn to speak, but there at the crosswalk
between Lahore and Los Angeles, I pledge
allegiance to nothing though sometimes
I mix the two languages, even throw in a little
high school French, or the Arabic I learned
reading the Quran, my nine-year old head draped
in a scarf pulled from my mother’s dresser.
I peer up at the canvas: ocean waves thrash
an archipelago of rocks.  My mother tells me
Apa painted it before I knew how to say
fish or pani or Pakistan, before I became
this chest of torn up maps.  In my body the Pacific
edges into Islamabad, Hollywood’s lodged
in the throat of the Punjab.  My grandmother’s
painting lives in this garage in Woodland Hills,
propped up against a box of fashion magazines.
The image speaks in twelve shades of blue,
like a storm of languages without a tongue.
The sight engulfs me, unpledged.
The coastline shadowed–no words, no light.

2.
The coastline shadowed–no words, no light.
The sight engulfs me, unpledged.
The image speaks in twelve shades of blue,
like a storm of languages without a tongue.
My grandmother’s painting lives in this garage
in Woodland Hills, propped up against a box
of fashion magazines. In my body the Pacific
edges into Islamabad, Hollywood’s lodged
in the throat of the Punjab.  My mother
tells me Apa painted it before I knew
how to say fish or pani or Pakistan, before
I became this chest of torn up maps.  I peer
of rocks.  I ask my mother about Apa’s painting
in English, she answers in Urdu, then it’s my turn
to speak, but there at the crosswalk between Lahore
and Los Angeles, I pledge allegiance to nothing
though sometimes I mix the two languages, even
throw in a little high school French, or the Arabic
I learned reading the Quran, my nine-year old head
draped in a scarf pulled from my mother’s dresser. 

Mehnaz Sahibzada is a 2009 PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow in Poetry. Her chapbook, Tongue-Tied:  A Memoir in Poems, was published by Finishing Line press.  She lives in Sherman Oaks. “Apa’s Painting” previously appeared in the Journal of Pakistan.