‘ON THE SPIRES OF OUR BREATH’

Literary Trails

Girijaa Upadhyay. Impermanence. Acrylic on paper.


‘Transience’
by Riyaz Latif

and when
on the spires of our breath
we had shaped some space,
that conversations with lofty clouds would follow,
that collisions with azure fogs would occur,
bearing tides of worlds
would descend the birds of Time,
alight, flutter,
in the flapping of their wings
carry the dance of misty islands’
burning crimson twilight–
brooks of Being would murmur
on the spires of breath–

it was then revealed
all is vain
nothing anywhere rests–
in each breath we too float away
far from ourselves,
veiled from the eyes of our shores, our horizons–
we, akin to an emotion astray
that eventually dissolves
in the caress of roving moments–

we, in houses, in offices, in the crowds on streets,
we, in groaning crawling bus-lanes,
in the encirclements of
cinemas, banks, ration-cards, crumbly bedsteads–
ensnared in existence’s desert-tracts–
on weary computer-screens
inscriptions of lost worlds
votaries of Star TV
we, shattered bricks of the collapsing Berlin Wall
with fresh demons of our past lodged in our chest

O friend, we are Glasnost
homeless fruits of Russia’s disintegration–
we, lamenters of Bosnia-¢roatia’s congealing blood–
a morsel of heartÍs empathy in Africa’s famished mouth–
Ram, we are done for!
sowing the primal seed of creation in sleeping waters,
inventing a god of existing epoch,
bearing the shroud-less corpse of Kashmir–
in the sizzling assemblies of SAARC nations,
we, often, on UNO’s pulpits
drowning questions in questions,
in the realms of our impoverishment
smiling and weeping at the world–
we, in roaring hollow slogans:
“Bring peace”
“grow More Trees”
“Multi-party formula”
“Eradicate AIDS”
“Save the Whale, the Dolphin”

have we been able to
save ourselves from the tempests of this body?
we, in the body, in the soul,
in the vibrant cupola of expression–where?
on nullified frontiers of revelations, of illumined dust–where?
on the earth-expanses of faces
akin to pause of beauty, we, for a passing instant, meditative–
crystals of lips bereft of mirth
oceans as if had wafted away, vaporized
when does water rest in rivers?
when does meaning halt in words?
on the splendor-abodes of the parchment
the nudity of torn words–
from reflection, from speech, from tongues, from expositions
slips away the wilderness of meaning–
we are adrift–
where are we?
we, splashing half-filled goblets, savoring Mughlai delicacies
we, on grand roads of cities
we, in resplendent hotels
we, in ampules of blood,
in the burdened, shattered sighs of ailments–where?

from the nameless crevices of mind’s mists,
the ones we have abandoned
in the occult chasms of our age,
emerges perpetually a voice:
you are in the clamor of earthÍs evolution
traversing spectral darkness of innumerable yonis–
sprouted from the roots of the primeval,
you are enigmas carved on the tombstones of your own souls!

rending you asunder, they shall blaze through you:
the creation of light, freshly forged stars, expanses,
inebriated streaks of lightning, heady planets, winds–
rending you asunder, they shall blaze through you:
veiled epochs, mountains, streams, grassy meadows,
woods green leaves, mouths of caverns,
pouncing panting flying crawling myriad species of
birds, animals, insects, bugs, butterflies–
you, earth’s rising–
you, in the wastes of hushed births–
you, centered on the weighty circles of untold centuries–
rending you asunder, they shall blaze through you then:
men of bygone eras,
in wrecked columns, in arches,
unknown civilizations intoning
as green moss on stones of ruins–
cities shimmering in vision,
spread habitats, childhood’s alleys,
cows, dogs, goats,
portico, cedar-chest, books, radio, soap!
rending you asunder, they shall blaze through you:
robots, microchips, strands of DNA,
and the absolute sorcery of the atom’s core–
all shall blaze through you
across to probability’s transformed glances,
across to vistas soaked in rainclouds of absence–

you, in changing glances
you, in changing vistas
you, in mutable bodies, your faces metamorphosed–
you, in the weighty circles of untold centuries,
in the breaths of infinite births,
in innumerable yonis,
have sculpted your death with a void-chisel
you, in death, in perpetuation too–
you, beyond death
or maybe not!

the voice emerges but ..
when do uprooted voices sojourn?
playing Malhar and Darbari on the lyre of winds,
caressing cultures carved on ancient stones,
robbing my forebearsÍ faces,
it slips away secretively
beyond the last abode of the skies–

what rests here?
from the nameless caverns of mind,
from the foggy fissures of our age,
have skidded and toppled
trade unions, red cross, literary forums–
shamans of knowledgeÍs withered body
¢homsky, Foucault, Derrida,
Marx, Lacan, Heidegger;
all birds of radiance beyond our insights–
far away from the coop of mind–
why, Mr. Parrot?
at the mere thought of passion, the desert was set ablaze?
the sun of thought set in the veins of waywardness?
the sun snuffed in the veins
adrift on cadence of blood
the sun has flowed away, holding on to blood–
does blood ever rest in veins?
it gushes away leaping and springing audaciously like Amazon
gathering the verdant leafy passion of
the dark forests of its shores along,
beyond the colors of its waves, its horizons–

and do colors stay anywhere?
colors, extinct from faces,
colors, fugitive from flowers,
colors, vanished from the range of walls–
picasso’s dismembered elements
Dali’s vexed breasts embedded in dreams
are now desirous
for someone to come and ossify them
in the heart of absolute light, of absolute colors,
in the heart of the rhythms of nimble heavenly spheres–

but the nimble heavenly spheres
afloat in their own ruminations!
what rests here?
tanks, armies, bombs,
Hiroshima lurking in bone-shafts,
all flowing–
all transient–
we, in bodies, in souls,
in boundless skies of our depths–inside,
miasma-like, disappeared somewhere–
nonexistence, whirlpools of strange births,
abstract precincts of Time
cannot contain us–
all is transient–
who resides now across moments?
where now the haze of uprooted voids?
where now uprooted voids where now?
who rests here ever?
what sojourns ever on the spires of our breath?
no birds of Time now
no thunder of clouds–
azure fogs and dance, vanished,
no call of brooks anymore–
all is transient–

and we, on this lonely spire of our breath
have shaped some space,

have betrothed your barren world–

Translated by the poet

Notes:
--Originally published as ìNāpāyēdārīî in Ẕehn-e Jadīd 4(16) (June-Aug) (1994), pp. 58–61 (for the original see the Urdu section of this volume). This poem dates from 1993 and, as such, has very topical references to the Berlin Wall, Glasnost, Bosnia-Croatia, and so on, which might seem rather dated today.--Riyaz Latif
--Reproduced from Annual of Urdu Studies No.29 with kind permission of Riyaz Latif.
--Translated by the poet. © Riyaz Latif.

Riyaz Latif  holds a doctoral degree in art history with a primary concentration on premodern Maghrib (North Africa), and the Mediterranean basin. After a postdoctoral fellowship with the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at the MIT, he taught at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA. After his return to India in the summer of 2017, he has been working as an independent scholar, and will join the faculty of FLAME University near Pune as associate professor of art history.

He emerged as a noteworthy voice in Urdu poetry during the last decade of the twentieth century, and his poems have been published in reputed Urdu literary journals of India & Pakistan. Along with two collections of Urdu poetry, Hindasa Be-Khwaab Raton Ka (2006) and ‘Adam Taraash (2016), as well as a book of translations into Urdu from European poetry, titled Mera Khoya Awazah (2014), he has published a number of articles, and has translated Urdu poetry and prose into English, most of which can be found in the Annual of Urdu Studies. His works in progress – academic essays, personal reflections, poems, translations – center on composite dimensions of literature and culture, as well as art and architectural history. His book manuscript, titled Ornate Visions of Knowledge and Power: the Formation of Marinid Madrasas in Maghrib al-Aqsa, is under review for publication.
Read here Latif’s tribute to Varis Alvi : http://www.thebeacon.in/2018/03/15/remembering-varis-alvi/

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