Iqra Khan

In The Museum of Cities I Once Was

An epitaph thaws with my breath and I spell
what I have lost, on a wildflowered wall. The stones warm
at my touch like parted kin. When the first Mughal

arrived from Farghana, he longed for its gardens
and its melons. The centuries sculpted the plains
into a likeness of his memories. The rickshaw pants

past the bright storefronts, past the rose-scented eyes
of pilgrims and vendors. A charbagh greens and glows
before me, like an ulcer in the hallowed mouth

of Nizamuddin. The last moon of December
spreads like softened butter over parapets speckled
with doves. The glyphs I etch on the wall are a fractal 

of an inheritance. One more year when you see
worse things than dying. My losses surface over me,
fascinating as scabs. My Daadu reading Al-Kahf, 

bifocals searching the ayahs for a different
time to be. Daytime gauged in calibrations
of power cuts. Gulmohar and amaltas growing

heavy with metaphor in a stranger’s poem.
After the mutiny, the mynahs mourned in these
very trees, the last free men. A season arrives

in apophasis of the last. The sacred fig still bows
with the day’s lynched. Beyond the haze-soaked bazaar, a prince
and a poet grow quieter in their marble

tombs and rooftops snuggle closer against the cold.
Sometimes, freedom carries a life sentence. On Fridays,
it carries a bullet. The butcher saves my father

his choicest goat shanks. A man asks me why my skin
isn’t light like the Turks I come from. I say my name
is foreign enough. I dress its uvular plosives

into the Hindi velars and stare at my own
putrefaction. Sometimes, homeland is a lie you live
until you belong or until you cannot. In a room

above a car wash, a woman lays out lunch for ghosts.
The streets conduct a commerce of ittar and camphor
doused in turpentine. The only living boy loses

an eye, beating metal scraps into answers
for grief. He looks for a way home and reaches
the wrong graveyard. In a dream, nastaliq leaves 

the signposts, and I never look up. I read
Kipling, perhaps Forster, in the panelled sunlight
by a balustrade. I can only say goodbye

in Urdu-Farsi. Khuda Hafez. Zafar,
the poet-emperor, murmurs as he holds
the white domes with the skin of his eyelids.

I leave. You. I leave you. I leave you with God.


Nightmares Where I Meet My Past and Future Selves Moments Before They Die

It’s past noon and I’m done scraping years
of grease from the cauldrons. So I turn nostalgia
like gum in my mouth until it sores. Rub
a poultice of figs and cloves on my teeth. I uncrease
the bedclothes smooth as death. My left ear strains
to find the kinder end of the pillow. The knotted
linen hisses restlessly around my calves. My dead
mother calls me from a sufi’s islet. Asks me
to bring candles and oranges on the way. I run past
the rowboats suspended in fog, heels splitting
the still grey surface for a brief gasp
of swan-wing and sunbeam—

I stand outside the glass door and peer
into the uncharacteristic quiet
of the McDonald’s drive-thru. The sky lightens
and I spot bitten bread at my feet, glittering
with broken glass. In a few hours, I will break
-fast with Cheetos. In a few hours, the garbage
trucks will roll in and make room for more
hunger. The alchemy of civilisation. Scientists
believe that the brain knows your decision
seconds before you become aware of it. I am
a wolf on sertraline, in the amethyst eye
of pre-dawn. If fate is an electronic tremor
in the deep dark wetness, saving myself
was always out of the question. I pick the bread
with my jaw, and with a sprinkle of red
over the eastern skyline, swallow it whole—

I remember when I was more than half
water and only a tenth doubt. How I could walk
between worlds. The earth has faith like a bead
on my grandmother’s rosary. Her hymn is gravity.
Because the earth is liquid at its core, she holds on
to all that she is given. Peach pits and bullets. Lead
lacing her veins. The jacaranda, a rustle of purple
ghosts. The godwits flying south and returning
when the snow peaks coax the sun
closer somehow. I crush cardamom pods
in my tea and wake up a believer on some days.
Because I am liquid at my core, God
homonyms in my gut. I His script, I His
scriptorium. He looks up through the oculus
of my throat for meaning. I am liquid, so I love Him
especially when it hurts. Think of water under
pressure. Or boiled peas tendering. Or how
the earth must embrace the first of the asteroids
that will last us. On some days, I strip
my insides with salt until light
finds the breath of God
and burns it out of me—

A cumulus crackles, its aureole glowing, and Mikaeel releases the heavens
over Mecca. We weep, the Kaaba and I, until grief returns
all the mothers in the world. Milk and honey flow
from Abraham’s infant thumbs. An asteroid explodes in blades
of grass. I pluck. I shovel. I periscope. I unearth


Iqra Khan is a Pushcart-nominated poet, activist, and lawyer. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, swamp pink, Southeast Review, Adroit Journal, ANMLY, Frontier Poetry, Pidgeonholes, Apogee, Four Way Review, HAD, Palette Poetry, and Baltimore Review, among others. Her work is centred around the experiences of the brown Muslim body, collective nostalgia, and the aspirations of her endangered community.