In the land of longevity, I eat apricots with every meal and drink curdled goat’s milk. The sweetness of the fruit mixes with the sour tang of the milk, a confusion of taste that I carry on my tongue. The golden orbs are everywhere in this small Pakistani town, hanging above my head at the outdoor table where I have my dinner, piled in slatted wooden crates fresh along the roadside, or dried and muddy orange in the cloudy plastic bags of market vendors. They cast their pink-tinged blush, they rosy the craggy and uninviting terrain. I am twenty years old, the farthest I’ve ever been from my home on the west coast of the United States, and newly married to a native of this land. The anxiety that has plagued me throughout my travels is somehow gone here, too small to be heard among the steep mountains, prickly shrubs, and flinty, wool-swathed people. In this place, I know more about what I am not than what I am, and I find this oddly comforting. 

Others come to the boarding house along the ancient Karakoram Highway where I stay. The dirt roads that seem empty and vast belie the numbers of people passing through. Men and women both foreign and domestic, traveling for adventure, working for local NGOs, conducting research on the Hunza people’s unique culture and lifestyle for their universities, studying their preternaturally long lives. Cracking open a world that holds fewer and fewer mysteries. I, too, am here for this purpose. 

We congregate—the young, the educated, the optimistic—with our lives ahead of us, collecting experiences to be retold later in hipster coffee shops and swanky wine bars in the United States and Europe. In the common room of the boarding house, someone brings a pipe, loads it with hashish, and passes it around. I catch a whiff of the acrid smoke as I take the pipe and hand it to the blond woman on the left of me with a blue-flowered dupatta slung casually around her neck. I am separate from these others, from their laughter, their easy bodies draped over cushions. I don’t like how the hashish makes their lids heavy and their voices sluggish. I have a paranoid mind—panic is my default state, and I never know if drugs will free me or trap me in that terrifying place. So, I abstain. My husband, who is Pakistani and a poet, fits in well with these travelers. They surround him, and he is wrapped in their fascination, like the beautiful but utilitarian wool scarves made by the Hunza people. 

I think back to Karachi, to the high-walled home of my husband’s university friends. In their backyard, which they call a garden, a bush named raat-ki-rani grows. Queen of the Night. The flowers of this bush release an intoxicating jasmine scent, but it blossoms only at night. It’s beauty is both alluring and dangerous—the strong perfume attracts venomous snakes who conceal themselves under the low branches. Like the snakes, I, too, want to curl my body under the green branches and look up at a sky shielded by snowdrift-colored blooms. 

There are paths in this world that hold timeless lessons. This highway, once called the Silk Road, is one of them. Already, I know that many things are beautiful, and many things are dangerous, and I often don’t know the difference between them. 

I leave the gathering, the warm light, the blue-black smoke curling in the rafters like the bodies of djinn slowly waking. I walk outside, under a dark sky filled with stars that care nothing for conversation, or fear, or loneliness. 

I unfurl to the night. I wish for flowers and hidden snakes. 

Ingrid L. Taylor

3 Questions for Ingrid

What was your process for creating these pieces?

Grind is an ekphrastic poem inspired by a painting by Remedios Varo called Papilla Estelar. I was intrigued by the woman in the painting—her tired visage, drab clothing, and slumped posture, and I wanted to create something that was about her. There was such power and elevation in that painting, but also a palpable exhaustion, and I wanted to express that. In my creative work, I’m endlessly inspired by female surrealist painters like Varo, Leonora Carrington, and Helen Lundeberg. 

Hunza is part of a series of micro-memoir pieces based on places where I’ve lived and traveled. It was a memory I’d carried for a long time. For this series, I wanted to focus on these very intense, encapsulated experiences that, taken together, created a wider sense of interconnection and meaning. 

What is the significance of the forms/genres you chose for this work?

For me, a poem seemed to be the way into Varo’s painting. It gave me a chance to connect with the image in a very intimate way but also provided a framework that was spare and concise. It seemed the best way for me to express the complex feelings I experienced when viewing Varo’s work. 

For Hunza, I knew I wanted to write about this experience, but it didn’t necessarily seem to fit into a larger work. The micro-memoir form seemed well-suited to this short, but powerful memory.

What is the significance of this work to you?

I’m very happy to see Grind published because I love sharing the art of female surrealists like Varo. Perhaps this will inspire someone to make their own investigations into these artists and create more work in honor of them. When I’m feeling uninspired, I will often turn to surrealist art to get my creativity flowing again, and it’s been an important part of my growth as a writer. 

Hunza harkens back to a very tumultuous period of growth in my life, when I was, to some extent, discovering the kind of person I want to be in the world. There’s a certain naivete in the piece, but also a sense of isolation and longing. That journey of discovery is nowhere near the end, but this was a very special time in my life when I felt that I was learning a lot about the world and myself.  

Ingrid L. Taylor is a poet, science writer, and veterinarian whose poetry has recently appeared in the Southwest Review, the Ocotillo Review, FERAL: A Journal of Poetry and Art, Horse Egg Literary, and others. Her poem “Mermaids” received Punt Volat Journal’s Annual Poetry Award in 2021. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Sentient Media. She’s received support for her writing from the Playa Artist Residency, the Horror Writers Association, and Gemini Ink, and she has an MFA from Pacific University. Find her online at

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