Zara Jamshed


Nitya Rayapati

Purple House


Zara Jamshed

This house of ritual is an invitation, the dusty attic
of how I put all of me together. If I was a museum,
what artifacts would crawl
their way out of the dirt, what gentle
erosion would wear my edges soft
and dull, who would pay the admission fee?

Could you resurrect me out of half-
finished notebooks and hair ties, single
earrings and expired prescriptions? Would you find
me in the constellation of moth holes
in the H&M men’s t-shirts? Can I live forever
in the opaque glass of the hookah, the playing cards
staling yellow, the spider web splay
of the cracked laptop screen?

There is so much that cannot be saved:
you cannot keep a limp, or a ring tan
into perpetuity, can’t clasp warm tremoring
fingers or smell tea tree lotion off a ghost.
I do not need to last forever, memory
is a whisper you almost do not hear. I want
to be a leaf in the wind, suspended

and then released.

Purple House

Nitya Rayapati

All day we paint the house. For a week we’ve followed the ritual, tracing over pinpricked holes, thinning the house’s thickening cracks, sweeping over the black and gray marks that spot the walls. My mother remembers the story behind every stain, though recently she’s had difficulty with dates. She’s lived in this house for forty-seven years, and seems, to me, committed to dying in it.

In her room, we paint the walls purple. It’s a very light purple. You could call it lavender but my mom doesn’t, she calls it purple. She picked the color out herself, from swatches at Home Depot. I wonder what she loves about lavender, but she doesn’t tell me, and once we start on the kitchen, she insists on switching to eggshell white. She says, Who would want a purple kitchen?

I think I would. I think a purple kitchen would be just right for me. But it is not my house, so I force open the can of white paint and pour some out. Dip the foam roller in, sponge up the color. We only have the one can—we thought we were painting a purple house—so I am sparing, rolling the ceiling with the lightest coat, saving the rest. My mother has covered the electric stove with a giant tarp, and as I paint, tiny specks spill onto the tarp.

Let me do it, she says suddenly, plucking the roller from my hands. And there is relief. It is difficult, standing on a chair and painting the ceiling with as little paint as possible. My mom is tall enough that she doesn’t need the chair. She raises the roller to a metallic gray mark on the ceiling. It looks like a dishti mark, dotted onto a baby’s cheek. Beside it is a slash of the same metal color.

How did that happen? I ask. What did that?

A can exploded, my mom says.

A can of what?

It was a mango can.

How does a can explode?

Boom! she says, lobbing the ceiling with the roller, causing a loud, flat sound that makes me flinch.

It was very scary, she says. I was only trying to open a mango can.

Where was I?

I don’t know, my mom says. I really don’t.

The mark is now glossy, clotted with white. Smiling, my mom says, I got it, right?

Now I say it: I don’t know. Because when I squint I can see a faint gray shadow, and so my mother goes over the patch again, not waiting for the first coat to dry.

Okay, Ma, I say, I think you got it.

But she shakes her head, rolling more and more paint on, and when she’s done, her breathing is sharp, a small bead of sweat is traveling down her face, and the patch is whiter than the rest of the ceiling.

Now it’s gone, she says, triumphant. But her arm has started trembling and the paint roller has too, splattering the tiniest splotches over the tarp. My mom glances at the stains she’s made, at her arm, and then at me, and for this second I’m empty, clean out of words.

Don’t worry! I say. That’s what a tarp’s for, I say, and she smiles, eyes still crowned with victory, and we set the roller down, soak it in water, and decide it’s enough for one day, that we’ll start again tomorrow.

Zara Jamshed (they/them) is a queer, trans, disabled Pakistani-American poet from NYC living in Oakland, CA. They are the winner of the 2020 Penrose Poetry Prize for LGBTQIA+ writers and have work published in The Arrow, Keppel Health Review, Kiwi Collective Magazine, and the Protest Through Poetry Anthology. Their full-length poetry collection Neither Created Nor Destroyed was a semifinalist for the 2021 Pamet River Prize, a finalist for the 2020 Stories Award for Poetry, and will be published with Game Over Books in November 2023. Zara is a 2022 Periplus Collective fellow, was featured at Kearny Street Workshop’s literary arts showcase for APAture 2021, and has had their work supported by VONA, Open Mouth Literary, and Anaphora Arts. Putting their engineering degree to use, they currently work to bring the economic and environmental benefits of solar energy to California’s low-income renters.

Nitya Rayapati is a writer and translator from Austin. She is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has been a Periplus fellow and her work has appeared in Electric Literature, PANK, and Gulf Coast.

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