Oyin’s Book Review #5: Drift by Shehzar Doja

A banal scene it may be—but have you ever seen a leaf fall from a tree?

No, not “Seen”—“Watched.”

Have you ever—solemnly, steadily—watched a leaf fall from a tree? How, in an abrupt moment of silent revolt, it exiles itself from crowded foliage? Its odyssey, briefest of any, maybe, commences as a tiny pulsation from contemplation of imminent lone, of lack of ration, or of laceration. Still, in a minute, that nagging, vegetable inhibition is drowned in cheering by spectating Winds. And then, gently, to rebel against the rigid hegemony of Trunk and Branch, Chlorophyll wills a resignation unto death; so that when, in conclusion, its flat, green shell falls, it falls, so luciferously, setting itself in husbristic sway; as one who, defying heaven, seizes earth.

I sometimes ponder the mighty, divine resolution embedded in such an act of wilful severance; like how a baby departs from the womb; or how a seed escapes the concealment of soil; or how a spouse in stardust must dust their shoes in separation from an abusive partner; or even how an activist, in a struggle for truth, must sometimes wave their fatherland goodbye.

While this drift, this theatre of disentanglement, achieves death and rust for the leaf, it, nonetheless, achieves life and relief for the more irregular, regenerative denominations of natural phenomenon.

Surely, Shehzar Doja knows this. He understands the cathartic power of disentanglement. His book, Drift, is a recollection of how this power, when embraced, affects the human experience in diverse ways. In it, 14 poems expose the liminal space that exists between alienation and soberness, as in that subliminal space that exists between the start and finish of a leaf’s detachment from a tree.

By the way, as a matter of detail, thumbs up to the editorial choices for cover image and titles of poems. Reading, the critical mind would recognise a compact, conceptual harmony within the organic mould of verses from cover page to back page. What envelopes, for instance, the fourteen poems in one common breath, even in their passionate but inconsistent obsessions is the fact that they are just as much poems about relationship or economy or home as they are poems of estrangement, around which these entities appear and disappear.

Drift_cover JPEG_0

As in J. M. Synge’s The Passing of the Shee, there is wilful alienation in Distance. Meticulously, two lovers drift apart. Their separation is physical, but it is not mental. Distance becomes “an illusion / our senses take comfort in.” So, even as “we hide ourselves”, a longing for each other’s presence persists; hence, “Our lips clench, sipping wine.” Loneliness is infiltrated by moods of guilt. Game—of emotions—over, each then resorts to “sweeping dusty attics” and “locking up skeletons.”

This ambiance is replicated, in a brutally minimalist manner, in Lines, but the prevalent mood is lethargy.

Morning coffee—

An evening wake.

 

No lines in between—

But an empty pen. (Lines, p. 14)

Obsidian’s impassioned barrage of rhetorical questions is equally a raw, desperate dirge for unrequited human passion; a hot affection gone cold; “dimensions” that “fade”. Oblivion, adamance, and desertion are the objects of the poet’s remembrance in this monologue of pain. He invokes the vagaries of nature as metaphor for his failure to repossess love and lover. Steeped in loric language, his queries, in fact, take on a spiritual urgency:

You are no longer enveloped

In the black Pashmina shawl

My mother gave to you as a gift

It lies stretched as a cover now…

Is it time I cloak myself with it again

And help me complete the final verses

Etched on an obsidian mirror? (Obsidian, p. 12)

Shehzar’s constant use of first-person pronouns (“I” and “We”) and the second-person (“You”) throughout the book evokes a second presence, one so strong, conspicuous and consistent—like the presence of Muse. If anything, it is a tentative indication of personal experience. If I am correct, Obsidian, in its heart-wrenching tempo, is close to describing a sad day in a life of divorce, or marital separation.

It is plausible, because in another poem, Waiting for Wine, two souls, “We” are walking silently within a garden, “tending grapes / awaiting its fermentation.” Tending is symbolic. It is not grapes, but sweet love, whose fermentation is awaited. The clipped imagery, as is the poet’s style, apes the Biblical Garden of Eden, home of mankind’s first couple.

As human passion, with its wayward dynamics—its ebb and tide—often bears the similitude of seasons; Shehzar’s modern versing, experimentalist, reminiscent of Yeatsian speak, are also leaping metres of nature’s weather cycles. Colour Blind sets a stage for players in the heat of an economic meltdown. Compos Mentis, with its dense matrix of Greek mythological references, is an ironic panorama of winter’s barrenness and incensed visions. Autumn’s Kiss is cold. In it, the poet is not deserted. Instead, he deserts.

I remembered –

The first snowflake

Began its journey that year

On your trembling cheek (Autumn’s Kiss, p. 18)

This reversal of the role of desertion—signalling the bemusing Moebius strip that is the reciprocal torture of love—is further entrenched and rationalised in poems like Foetus and Arid. In the former, a life, met with alienation, is described as “a lingering reverie / trapped incoherently in infinite folds,” and so, “the restless recipient acknowledges / that this gift is to be reimbursed / when the unfolding commences.” In the latter, a harsh and bitter resolution cements the conjugation of tears and silence:

There are echoes hidden

In the rehearsal of torn monologues…

 

Leave me to my quiet despair,

I shall leave you to your dry rain. (Arid, p. 20)

This sense of resolute disentanglement is also carried to Dwelling. In An SMS Sent Home, Shehzar describes everything that Home is not, and shockingly—or not so shockingly—they comprise of today’s conventional paraphernalia of Home: rooms, chambers, music, fridges, etc. Shehzar simply dismisses all of this, as simulated and conceited, and concludes that Home is, intangibly, what saves the soul.

What saves the soul could be “Waves, stagnant on these shores”, where “sometimes they emerge—a lethargic catharsis” (Carthasis, p. 23), or it could be a silent, loving communion, eased by tender empathy, by mutual tolerance, and by courageous possibility. Such is demonstrated in Belief, which is my favourite poem in the collection. Because, in it, Drift assumes an unusual, but very, very beautiful meaning.

Together—we are a ‘belief’

Lying silently next to each other,

 

Our voices mute,

Our thoughts in a dance

 

Flowing, meandering—two truths—

Both blessed to be real. (Belief, p. 23)

 

 

 

OYIN’S BOOKER IS A 2018 SERIES OF BOOK REVIEWS BY OYIN OLUDIPE, RECIPIENT, 2016 CHRISTOPHER OKIGBO PRIZE FOR POETRY. ON IT, HE SHALL WRITE ABOUT ALL THE BOOKS HE SHALL READ THROUGH THE YEAR. HE RESIDES ON TWITTER @OYINOLUDIPE

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