The East river is never still upon stones and ships.
Always, the chance of touch.
How thin we are– how everything
makes us flap, snap, fall
crooked branches before night
They are like hands frozen into longing,
hairs tangled beyond separation.
A Lucknow courtesan adorned to madness,
This week on the Friday Influence I am featuring the work of my good friend and excellent poet: Adeeba Talukder.
What moves me most about this series of short poems is how much they play with chance. They take on a riddle-like structure to define things in a lyrical and personal manner. Talukder lives in Brooklyn, so there is the East River as only she can open it up. She is fluent in both Urdu and the work of the great classical Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Ghalib, and sees the language so tied up in his work that she cannot define it without mentioning him. (It is also a bittersweet touch to allude to the great love affair of Ghalib’s life).
Reading these poems, I am reminded of other efforts forged in chance and singularity such as Gertrude Stein’s tender buttons and Yannis Ritsos’ monochords. “tremble” evokes some of Sappho’s fragments, that immediacy and intensity that can only be channeled through lyric poetry.
Read individually the poems stand on their own. Read in a series the poems play off each other in their focus on movement and fragility. The line “How thin we are” applies to the leaf but also to the lovers at the end, lovers weeping tied up in the air of language.
Here’s the poet on her work:
God and love constantly elude me, so they have a way of sneaking into all my thoughts and sentences; many of my poems constantly revisit the imagery, language, and rituals that both concepts have traditionally evoked. For me, the two are also intrinsically intertwined; I am a student of classical Urdu ghazal poetry, and years and years of dwelling within its universe have birthed in me an obsession with the idea of physical, human love as a step towards– or even a manifestation of– love for the Divine. I have developed a fondness for the ghazal’s characters and metaphors– the cruel beloved, the mad lover tearing his collar in anguish, the frenzied moth circling the flame, the nightingale singing its songs of love for the rose. Its recurring themes of desire and separation, the slaying of the ego, and absolute obliteration in the path of desire are also among my haunts. My poems are often simply attempts to reconcile that fantastical world with this other one I inhabit.
These words open up Talukder’s work for me not just as a reader but as a poet as well. In them I see a poet embracing her obsessions, not using them for fodder but rather seeing them as colors in the room she lives in. That is the way craft works: it is a thing inside you that grows the more you grow.
Here’s another poem by Adeeba Talukder:
What feeble minds have held you between their fingers? Despite your
reshapings and growths and falls Manhattan’s still living between banks.
your tide-fist’s swell
spread calm as water,
as light, light, light.
Nothing moved between the skins of earth and sky. They sank into the
darkness, traced each other’s noses as though it were love.
the soft of dusk
its waist of light
how much of you moon?
how many eyes the night?