The City of Red
These are the accompanying notes to my poems from my manuscript ‘Rooftops in Karachi’ This manuscript was highly commended twice in the Shapcott 2010 and 2011. I am now seriously going to reconsider my vision for the book, and to not compromise upon this vision. The poems have been published in Cordite, Australian Poetry Journal, and Mascara Literary Review to name but a few. I plan to publish this book by myself with images I am etching. Each poem will also be connected to a diary entry. I hope you enjoy.
The Moon landing on Rooftops in Karachi.
When I arrived the rain came. It hadn’t rained in four years and my little cousin had never seen the rain. Everyone ran out into the street like a post card that doesn’t exist. Even the hungry dogs found the opportunity to drink from puddles. The vendors let the rain clean their plastic roofs and the dirt off their sandals. Rich girls ran away from the rain into shops that sold tight jeans. Others would have to go back to the hairdresser for straightening. Not only their hair, but their limbs needed straightening as well, nothing like their mothers or grandmothers whose generous plump arms alluded to a sensuality only seen in corridors.
My cousins ran onto the rooftop and almost slipped on the surface of the moon, pock-marked like a school boy’s skin, like villages in Iraq. But more accurately resembling the surface of the moon.
Three of the rabbits caught a cold and died a few days after. Their sniffles built up into shivering and shock, just like myself. But I survived. (Though perhaps I am a ghost able to travel across oceans?) But it was probably better for them. The hutch wasn’t big enough for five rabbits and I had plans, upon first seeing them, to let them out. Their deaths would have been quick, but I didn’t want them to die, I just wanted them to taste liberty. If it wasn’t my schizophrenic cousin who would shoot them, they would have been eaten by the pregnant dogs.
The dust is like silt but despite the dust everyone always looks so clean. Even the beggars. Maybe Allah washes them while they sleep huddled in corners.
In Australia I remember dusty summers and long-limbed girls with mothers who were hairdressers.These long-limbed girls had swimming pools and boys coming over to their parties and a way of being that I envied. I talk to them all the time around the city but they don’t know who they are. They bounced around on pogo sticks and combed their bejewelled hair with seashells made out of the fingers of Indian babies. Their hair was always shiny and soft and streaked with blond. I was the artifice, and they were the daughters of earth. I sometimes rode my bike home from school pulled backwards by the weight of exercise books that strangled me every night. The dust is thick and dry in the throat and dogs run across the road and sometimes get hit.
There are mothers with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, bra-less and swearing. There are fathers I was afraid to be around more than my father. They leered, they seemed to wheeze at me.
My mother had travelled the world, she was gracious, quite mad, neurotic, and had lovely brown silky hair. She spoke with elegance and gave up smoking when she was 21.
My father lost his eye in a factory because someone didn’t like the colour of his skin. They threw a piece of glass at him and it pierced his eye. He was trying to make a better life in Australia and I think he has given up now. That was thirty years ago.
The rooftops in karachi are the most colourful places to be. There I can liberate myself from the veil. There I can be a Queen, not to my dominion of human or animal subservients, but Queen of the kites in the sky. Even the eagles swoop low to catch a glimpse of my childish glee. I raise my arms to welcome the rain and my cousin Kirin disappears so she can get felt up by her imaginary lover. His hands feel her small tits and plunge down her waist to the new growth. Her under-arms smell really strong, like the smell of a dangerous young woman, and I like the smell in small doses.
The rooftops extend and pierce the horizon so that it bends under the weight of all the white and grey crumbling cement. This is surely an out-post of a lost colony on the out edges of the galaxy.
But the guns are raised on New Years eve. And I wish there were more guns. I long for every man woman and child to shoot into the sky on New Years Eve. I want to drown out the sound of poverty( yes poverty has a sound ) and the sound of Allah. Even the Azan can be deadened by the guns going off at midnight. Home-made fireworks will puncture eyes and blow-off limbs but it is nothing Pakistani’s are not used to. Like wild-frontier children of America, they come closest to William Burroughs own descriptions of mystical deadly boys poised for danger or deception.
Just like the stench of poverty so the smell of covert sexuality. It gets into the thin cotton of summer here. It rolls down the brown backs of menstruating girls like lizards chasing down a shadow.
Boys wilt in the heat, they pant like half-dead dogs, with marigolds in their hair. I long for Punjab after the heat of Karachi. This is the city of sex and death and the Azan tries to police the over-flow. This was once India, sex temples abounding, and now chaste veiled women and men whose lust lies and murders flow through the mosques. This is the city of red fingernails and dead dogs. This is the city of murder, and passion. No murder is cold here. All hot and all in the heat of passion. This is the city where Allah has innumerable eyes, and his sex organs are stretched out through the bodies of all the young girls and boys. He longs to feel and see and touch. So he sings out five times a day.