The ancient Miani Sahib graveyard rises and falls in mounds, and we stumble along as if wandering among the crevices of a Lahore topographical map. It has been three years since we’ve visited, but my teenaged son is first to find my father’s grave. He and his brother hang garlands of rose petals on side by side marble headstones, my father’s rectangle the far corner in a line of brothers, great uncles my children have never known. A caretaker pours water from a mashak, and with the cup of his palm, he lovingly cleans the 99 names of God bracing my father’s grave, and I pretend he’s offered such attention each day in the long, almost ten years since my father was swallowed into the belly of the graveyard. A man in a crisp white shalwar settles near where I picture my father’s shoulder and sings verses from the Holy Quran. My cousin, partner in prayer, stands solemnly beside me before gently translating headstone inscriptions, a doctor transforming the Arabic numerals of birth dates and death dates into life spans. I try to concentrate on the warmth of his voice, the singsong ages of the dead, but I am distracted by my children. They shuffle their feet, kicking up fine winter dust with their white sneakers. Their mesh T-shirts are loose on their skinny bodies, pointy shoulder blades emerging each time they bend to drop strings of rose petals on the headstones meeting their hands. The graveyard, a hundred acres in the center of the crowded city of ten

million people, is my pilgrimage site. As a child, I routinely accompanied my father to the bursting family plot where over a lifetime he buried his grandparents, parents, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and countless more distant relatives. Each visit, he’d recite their names, how and when they died, and elaborate on the stories that defined the dead. I recall one visit when I was in college and death started to feel real. My father paused for me as I tried to sketch rows of graves with a dull pencil on a yellow legal pad. I filled sloppy rectangles with misspelled names and inaccurate dates until I’d contrived a crude map I quickly misplaced. Now, as an adult and without my father, I replicate the pilgrimage with my

husband and children whenever we visit Pakistan. Instead of my father, one of my favorite cousins who is a few years older than I am, is recounting the names of the dead, and I don’t contradict him when a detail challenges

one shared by my father. Our sons squeeze between graves, and I’m relieved they are old enough to know not to step on them. By the end of our visit, our older son has the look of an adolescent barely tolerating his surroundings. Our younger son stands at a distance from us, and I think this right. He is only partially with us, anyway, his mind already taken up with the next day’s prospect of visiting his cousin, six weeks older than he, a brother he wishes was also his. As we walk back to the car, our older son rests an elbow on my shoulder, enough weight to slow me down. His mind is sanitized by perfect gardens of the dead, uniform graves in pristinely manicured rows flanking some of Ithaca’s lovely roads. He declares the Lahore graveyard a terrible place. My cousin steers us through a maze of narrow lanes scattered with garbage and refuse, and rose petals, too, and I sadly marvel that my refuge is the opposite for my child. It is my refuge because I imagine I might come from that crowded plot in

Miani Sahib graveyard in the middle of Lahore, gnarly trees raising stunted limbs into the perfect sky, as if in adulation. I inhale the winter’s dust and muezzin’s song, absorb the chaotic jumble of the dead, the disordered mounds of mud graves sprouting from every cranny, and in the distance, I notice dwellings infringing upon the dead as the city refuses to be contained. The web of my life – the paths and the journeys of who I am and where I’ve been – grows outward from this center. A spider’s thread is spun to Islamabad where I grew up, other threads reach elsewhere: Maastricht where my mother endured a part of her war, Amritsar where my grandfather had a flower garden, Rudolfienerhaus, the hospital in Vienna where I was born, Dhaka where half of Pakistan was surrendered, and many other places, including New York state, my home for the last 22 years, a place in the midst of all others remarkable only for its silence. The more I think about it, the wider the web gets, the looser the weave, the more slippery the links. Lying awake that night, listening to the sounds of my sleeping family in my

cousin’s beautiful guest bedroom, I try not to fault my son for his discomfort. I felt the same way as a 16 year old and had since conveniently forgotten. Miani Sahib graveyard is filthy and chaotic, it has a foul smell and is impossible to navigate. Yet when I imagine the center of my web, the family burial plot comes to mind. This fact is filled with irony and contradictions. More often than not, I was unable to communicate with family members buried there. I do not read or speak Urdu fluently, am dependent on my cousins and others in Pakistan to translate for me, three whole years have passed since my last trip to Pakistan, and I don’t know when I’ll visit again. I live in the United States, and despite a Pakistan that sports chic indoor malls, Nike stores, GNC branches, internet cafes, and frequent signs for Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, I cannot conceive of a more disparate reality. My web, I think, is not formed by a spider’s silk. I write my web. The more

I write, the tighter it gets and the more certain I am that it is there.