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Area Studies

The map was printed on a handkerchief. It is a map of a place that no longer exists. British East Africa. On a handkerchief—you can hold the Republic of Tanganyika near your nose! Around the carved-out section of Africa float pictures, symbols: a rhinoceros, a bird you cannot identify. Strangely, we had two maps, nearly identical, except that the print on the handkerchiefs, the outlines of the place were slightly blurry; neither was perfect. I was always thinking about stretching these handkerchiefs, ironing them, framing them for a present for our mother who was from there, but nothing came of that. I was a child who wanted perfect. They were hers so it would have been giving something of hers back to her; what kind of gift is that? A good one or a sad one, or both? I never did it. I still find them from time to time. 

Women’s Studies

Three embroidered cream-colored cloths or are they two, float in the kitchen. They are not framed the way stitching, cross-stitching, and needlepoint are framed in other people’s front hallways and parlors and living rooms and above stairs. They are not framed at all. They are not letters, pilgrim blue. They are not a repetition of vowel sounds, of consonants. They do not linger. They are flowers and they curl. They taunt me: What was it that I meant to do? To frame, to frame, to hang up. Nothing done. Were they part of what women had to do to show some sort of mastery over the smallest surface? I will never embroider like that. We had latch hook, just hours of watching The Guiding Light and All My Children and hooking. The ugliest designs and colors until some design: oversize red and blue mushrooms in a field grew, mold-like, in shag-rug splendor. 

Visual Studies

My friend Anne says use the old frames and wear them. Replace the lenses. I, too, wear glasses; this is one way I know I belong to my family since I don’t really resemble them. They are my mother’s cat-eyeglasses, from the sixties; or maybe it was the seventies. They are broken and I cannot bear to get rid of them. I keep them in the blue-and-white flowered glasses case she always used. I keep them in a wooden box that says Buffalo Baking Powder Company and that I bought one summer, at an antique fair. I was not even twenty-five. What did I know then of the way things break down? Of the way I would and one day did. I want to believe I will wear her glasses one day. I keep thinking about these objects that have no particular use, how I study them: two handkerchief maps of an area now called something else; pale, needlepointed flowers (unframed); spectacles with black and gold rims, a relic signifying forthcoming absence, these glasses of a mother I will lose one day.

Sejal Shah is the recipient of a 2018 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. Her first book of essays is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press through its literary nonfiction series, Crux. Her fiction manuscript, How to Make Your Mother Cry, was a finalist for the 2017 Mary McCarthy Prize from Sarabande Books and the 2017 Robert C. Jones Prize from Pleiades Press. Her nonfiction manuscript, Things People Say, was a finalist for the 2017 Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s Essay Collection Prize and the Kore Press Memoir-in-Essays Prize. She lives in Rochester, New York.