Mehnaz Turner

Mehnaz Turner was born in Pakistan and raised in southern California. She is a 2009 PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry. Her story, “The Alphabet Workbook”, is forthcoming in the August 2010 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Her poems have appeared in publications such as Asia Writes, The Journal of Pakistan Studies, Cahoots Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine, Desilit Magazine, and An Anthology of California Poets.  She is currently at work on her first poetry manuscript, Tongue-tied: A Memoir in Poems.  To learn more about Mehnaz, visit her at



This morning a bird mugged me,

its beak pecking at my hair for twine.

The oven mugged my ginger cake

this evening.  After thirty-four minutes,

it was shaped like a canyon.


For years, Iraq’s mugged the television,

oil hungry despots have mugged Iraq.

Last night, the sky mugged

by 1200 clouds, signaled an apocalypse.


California’s mugged my Pakistani roots,

mugged every square inch of Lahore out of me. 

My mother says, nothing can mug a person’s

memories.  I say, the empty suitcases

in my closet have mugged my optimism.


The last time I tried to visit Lahore,

the airline mugged my ticket, the computers

had mugged my reservation.  In London,

I had to make a U-turn.


That December I spent two solitary weeks

reading in my apartment. The homes

in Ventura had been mugged by Christmas lights. 

Snowmen with carrot noses grinned

clown-like on the front lawns.


One night, near midnight, I drove

around town looking for something to mug.

My pockets were empty.  I hadn’t spoken

Urdu in months.  I ended up at a diner

where a shiny waitress brought me a mug

of coffee.  When she asked about my eyes,

I told her they were waiting to look

at everything I’d ever lost.


Once when I was sixteen, I was mugged

after mosque.  A philosophy book shot an arrow

through every minaret I’d seen.  Snow gathered

around my heart.  For years, it seems, I’ve been

scraping pans, drinking fire, dodging birds.




Everything New


That night, I couldn’t escape menace.

I stared down at the dripping faucet

in my kitchen, cursing under my breath.

The evening had been a fickle light bulb.

A long conversation with my mother sparked

by the flame of our tongues, the phone

heavy in my hands as the light seesawed

on and off.  The whole house shook like

the belly of a lamp nudged by a careless hip.


I had worn a night like this before where

darkness thickened behind the shades, where

I was the skin and the veil, the neck

and the wrench.  I spotted a spider teasing

out a web in my dining room,  and later

sifting through saris in the closet, my fingers

pressed over dust, and I imagined each garment

in the tomb of its own unwearing,

like the weeks when no light bulbs glowed

inside me, and there were piles of memories

on my desk.  I had managed with my khakis

and cotton tees, the odd dress which suggested

I had the fleeting charm of a tourist.


But that night, in Los Angeles, I made sure

to touch the green-lipped hems, even the turquoise

shawl my mother handed me once as a wish.

Scarf by scarf, shoe by shoe, I spelled a prayer 

with my hands, making everything new,

even the belts and the caps. Even that too small

ruffled skirt I once bought from a clothing store in Lahore

with all the white of a summer cloud

between my eyes, light fusing with my breath.



China Silk Shoes

I womaned my way into fourteen pairs in the rack. 

Three more in the coat closet and four under my bed.


My husband hums the math, skims a puzzled look

over my feet.  His favorites include the red sneakers


and flamenco heels.  Men are simple, he says with

a shake of his head, as if complexity were a tarot deck. 


And I wave through the twin response: part zen

teacher, part succubus.  How can I explain that city


women live in the clickity-click of their imaginations. 

The sidewalk’s a runway, a yellow carpet spilling


into countries of leaf.  How can I explain, when there

are the other days I wish I could pivot barefoot


through the weeks.  But my soles would grow restless. 

Nothing like a leather strap over each ankle to make


the dinner wine taste like meat.  It’s not just a pair

of shoes.  It’s that weeping woman in Picasso’s oil


on canvas, getting up and stepping out.  She gives her

hips a purposeful shake.  I’m headed crimson, she says,


reaching into a kitchen bowl to grab a handful of cherries,

before she puts on her china-silk shoes and colors free.