By Sheniz Janmohamed
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Bleeding Light starts off with a cry. A beautiful cry. One that I welcomed. One that I felt. One that set the tone for the entire collection. One that I will re-read many times. One that I will remember forever.
The Last Cry is the moment before the arrow penetrates the heart. It’s “the essence of a ghazal” writes Janmohemed. And she’s not exaggerating. Every poem in her collection comes at you like an arrow. Sometimes you can move out of the way, other times you are stunned by Janmohamed’s words and are left frozen to be pierced.
As Janmohamed’s words fill your mind she is not preaching but sharing, and many times she is asking questions, many questions.
In Abyss of Forgetting Janmohamed asks:
When light is a myth and the attic of his mind becomes her solace, what use is prayer?
Janmohamed shows that she is not a blind believer. Her sufi influenced book is not one that states her way of reverence for Creator is the right way. She herself questions a fundamental practice to her spirituality.
In Allah-Hu Janmohamed starts with, “He is closer to me than my jugular vein,” which is a direct reference to the Quranic verse 50:16: “He is closer to you than your jugular vein.” The poet immediately shows the reader she is a believer and that her union with her creator is real. But Janmohamed shows she is much different than most followers of Allah-Hu (Allah is. A declaration. A celebration. A recitation). Not only are her words one of humility and reverence they show a different side to a believer that not many expose:
He paints his creation but knows his canvas still remains imperfect.
How many spiritual people do you know who say creation is imperfect?
Janmohamed follows up questions with a critique of colonialism. In Ladders Without Rungs she writes:
They drill oil from oceans, drag seals to slaughter, unsalt seas.
Janmohamed is showing the reader that we are going nowhere. She chops down the ladder of upward mobility. There are no rungs to this colonial way of living. We are momentarily climbing up two sticks that are being played off as a stable ladder. Sooner than later, we are going to fall. Then what?
Great thinkers are full of questions. As stated earlier, Janmohamed asks many:
Will I love someone enough to burn for them?
She answers this question in Noble Soul. While reading this poem I wrote “AMAZING!” in my notes. I’m a bit of a romantic. You can stereotypically attribute that to my South American side if you like (yes, I’m mixed and proud!). Regardless, I’m a sucker for such poems when written well. And Janmohamed writes well!
Janmohamed deconstructs regular notions of love:
Common lovers call their beloved my other half.
But I am you, how can there be a half in a whole?
A marriage of souls cannot be made a union.
A union was once separation. But a diamond is coal.
In my veins run your blood. When you hurt, I bruise.
Throughout the collection Janmohamed shows she is a well read writer. There are references to great poets such as T.S Elliot, Carl Sandburgh, and a local writers, Rishma Dunlop.
There are also lines that have you stop reading to take them in, re-read them, think, and wish you had written them. For example:
Only the pen knows how to draw blood without bleeding.
Janmohamed has you constantly appreciating her words as well as contemplating them:
When everything we create has already been created, what is innovation?
Innovation is the collection that Janmohamed has put together. She prefaces sections with Arabic words, prays on paper in a poetic way, states her love for her beloved without grossing you out, and opens herself to her reader extending an invitation that they gladly accept.
I remember my friend Daniel Heath Justice tell met that a good book is like spending time with a friend. After a week of heartbreak I felt that I found a new friend in Janmohamed. She snuggled in bed with me as I read, spoke to me as I hung my head low, embraced me as I cried my last cry.
In her final poem, The Last Ghazal, Janmohamed writes, “This page is a prayer mat.”
There’s no better way to describe Bleeding Light.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday October 26, 2011 for an inclusive interview with Sheniz Janmohamed.