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Nine Yards of Muslin

The beauty of a plain length of fabric is that it’s free of the hierarchies of what’s up and down, what’s important and what’s not. Each thread is vital to the integrity of the whole and the smallest loss irretrievably alters its character. 

A hole in the fabric makes a space. A space that’s filled by whatever is available. If you hold it up to the sky, it’s filled by a hue that is an oxymoron, wearing its bluest drape when utterly bone dry. 

Though she did not live anywhere near the sea, she felt its inchoate roar, an unnamed absence weighing on her from the moment she awoke. Something was missing from the air.

The crow blacks the traffic jam the hawkers the spitballs the offal the stray dogs the comb and balloon vendors. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday. Load shedding. The pins in her hair. A weak left ankle. Everything was there, except it wasn’t. 

A cloth folded into flat layers, each thin as an amnion. If  birth was transparent, was age translucent? She buried her face in the muslin and took a long deep breath. A hundred years old, or at least that’s what her grandmother had always told her. 

But Nani was gone, her death a hole around which their lives were slowly stitching themselves, the darn thing still chafing occasionally at the back of a throat, a placemat set out of habit, opaque. 

What, to a woman, is muslin, if not next of skin? In those days it wasn’t called muslin but aab é rawân, flowing water. Over the years Nani had carefully apportioned its riverine span. Two yards for an embroidered Eid dupatta here, half a yard for swaddling cloth there.  

By the time a clumsy Molotov cocktail landed in the courtyard of their house in Allahabad, the flaming petrol soaked rag fortuitously fizzling out in the fountain, it was abundantly clear that another river, baying for blood, was nipping at their heels and would soon rise above their heads  and there was no choice but to leave the land of their birth, there were only three yards left. 

Nani measured a handspan, bringing the fabric from her outstretched index finger to the tip of her nose, made a small snip and tore off a yard in a final partitioning of the parent gauze.

A split second/ two handspans/ each half/ a grave length. 

The time it took to crest a continuum of water.


One thought to blot out all 

is what the ring- 

master wants 

you on your knees 

pinned down by the man- 

tra la la, keep singing 

polyester orange till 

you’re blue in the face 

the AQI is off the charts 

and nothing bleeds 

as silently 

as the color green

Sophia Naz is a bilingual poet, artist, author, editor and translator. She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize; in 2016 for creative nonfiction and in 2018 for poetry.  Her work features in numerous literary journals and anthologies She has authored the poetry collections Peripheries (Cyberhex 2015), Pointillism (Copper Coin 2017), Date Palms (City Press 2017) Open Zero (Yoda Press 2021), and Shehnaz, a biography (Penguin Random House 2019). Her fifth poetry collection, Bark Archipelago, is forthcoming from Weavers Press San Francisco. Her work can be found online at www.SophiaNaz.com

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