06: Love and Lingering

I am thinking a lot about the phrase na raha in Urdu lately.

In a song I am trying to translate, na raha is the tail. It trails behind every length of longing the singers introduce. It is the bottom of the spine of the chorus. 

Na raha literally means something like “is no longer there.” Colloquially, it could translate to anymore, no more, no longer or even just gone—depending on the context. I like how language moves with context. Language, the water. Context, the bottle. (Time, the what then? The leak? The heat? The edge.)

What is harder to convey about na raha is the emptiness that lingers around the phrase. Some of the more interesting etymologies of na raha are “secret” and “to be lonely.” If I had to describe it, I would explain na raha, in this song especially, as a long walk you take by yourself. Na raha, the way the air moves around a spot where someone once stood. The way the air trembles because now someone, in some sense, will always still be standing there.

Don’t leave now that you’re here—

Stay. So the world may become like itself again:

so the sky may be the sky,

the road a road,

and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

“before you came” by faiz ahmed faiz, translated by agha shahid ali

I’m having a lot of trouble writing these days.

In fact, that snippet you just read about na raha, I wrote in, maybe, February? March? No, I didn’t write anything in March, the last dredges of winter. I just didn’t have the patience, or maybe the patience didn’t have me. I was—(I am)—preoccupied with living: a new job, my first book, Ramadan, almost spring.

What is it about the preoccupation of living that puts poetry not behind me but beside me as I venture? I’m not reading any less than I ever am. In fact, I am lingering closer to poems still. For weeks, I have pressed my heart into the crevices of my friend Itiola’s chapbook, Spells of My Name—especially the two poems at the end, “Love is Not the Last Room” and “How to Spell Infinity.” If grief is the bookcase, what are the books? If the cold gathers a dream of snow, what does the sun dream?

As I find myself writing terrible—like truly terrible—love poems these days, it feels good to be near to the glory of Itiola’s work, which thunders with grace like a waterfall. I am content to be near the sound. I am content to be a place poetry passes through, lands, leaves, lingers. A place of its arrivals and departures.

I leave lines scattered like spare parts around my house. Someday, maybe, I’ll build that ship. But for now, on my whiteboard: everything tastes like you. In the margins of my grocery list, after reading Richard Siken: I am making laps and laps around you.

Sometimes you get so close to someone you end up on the other side of them.

Richard Siken, “The Long and the short of it”

It’s my birthday on Monday and I love birthdays. I love fuss, and celebration. Splendor, and silliness. What could be sillier than a birthday? Pretending time exists, pretending we can trace it, pretending any day is the same as any other.

But pretending is a game too and this game, I guess, is the reminder that we love each other because we exist. Because we were born. Because everything that exists aligned in its particular way to make room for you. For me and you.

Though we’re not so self-

important as to think everything

has led to this, everything has led to this.

Nicole Sealey, “Object permanence”

I am glad you are alive, you are saying when you wish me happy birthday. I am glad we are alive together, I am saying when I say thank you.

Sharon olds, “birthday poem for my grandmother”

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