The Apparitions of Language: Reading Soham Patel’s to afar from afar
by Mike Corrao
1. This is a language which approaches from a distance. It lingers in the air surrounding your head, and seeps in through the holes of your face. Images are diluted by a series of lenses. You aren’t present. This isn’t your scene, but you can remember something about it. A voice comes out of the ether and tells you the memories and dreams that you’ve forgotten.
2. The second person of Patel’s poetry is not instructive. It isn’t Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” It’s the song of someone outside of time and space. Anomalies in the fabric of the universe. The voices that leak out of those anomalies. It exists in conversation with the reader. It imbues us with an agency that isn’t our own. We are stripped of our identity and given one that is unfamiliar to us. Filled with dust and laid across a globe that sits somewhere in the room. The reader becomes a subject of projections. Witness of war, globalization, and colonialism.
3. These are not my traumas. The second person is not an act of transference. I have not been imbued with some kind of presence that I did not have before. Patel’s poems are a kind of oration. They act as a display of history and experience, passing on the knowledge of what has happened. Revealing to us what has been forgotten does not give us permission to assume the identity of the colonized. This is not our right as reader (especially as white reader). The second person perspective of these poems is a means of revealing what has been lived and felt by another.
“Let tears clean your face.”
4. Across these three long poems there is a range of textures. Form fluctuates. At certain times assuming the shape of prose, and at others the shape of poetry. Pockets of text appear amongst larger empty spaces. Patel’s language drips onto the page. It shapes ink or pixels into human likeness.
5. The poem “[You always wake up on the floor with a sore back...]” documents a series of dreams and the brief waking moments that surround them. Small blocks of text form at the tops of the page, or in the center. Then they disappear and there is a lapse in time. As if the speaker has fallen asleep and you are left sitting there, waiting for them to reawaken and continue dictating your memories, your dreams. You want them to come back and to tell you what you’ve seen while they were away. Empty space feels like empty time. There is a sense that the speaker's voice is not naturally occurring; that the pages could exist without her, as measurements of duration, or proof of this continuation. And at times they do seem to function this way.
6. Meanwhile, the poem “in airplane” finds chaos and confusion in the presence of violence. Drone patterns interrupt the structural integrity of language. Thoughts form in strata. A triangle breaks the poem into clusters. Lines are arranged in ambiguity. I felt briefly lost. I didn’t know in which direction I was supposed to move, what path my eyes were supposed to follow. “in airplane” evokes this feeling of uncertainty, brought on by the presence of a foreign object. More than that—a drone, a symbol of American intervention, the icon of globalization, of violence committed from a distance.
“did you see / the drone”
7. I’m aware that this book exists in a place that I cannot fully understand. My position as reader is passive, yet active. I do not have the right to appropriate these emotions. When the voices coalesce in to afar from afar, they occupy an almost unidentifiable space. I feel present, but distant. Subject and object. The reader becomes the wall on which these images are projected.
8. These poems are beautiful, and I’m not sure how I feel. They’re spoken in a voice that is soft, yet solid. They come from “a place as ancient as globalization” that I have never seen. When I read them, they seeped into the space that I occupy and soaked into the surrounding architecture. They told me what I’ve seen, but do not remember seeing. What I should have remembered. Images so loving and painful. I feel a sense of embarrassment. As if I’ve taken someone else’s identity.
9. to afar from afar is something whole that has broken into fragments and set adrift across spacetime. It’s the haunting and spectral voice, wronged by war and globalization. Read this book because what it has to say is important.
Mike Corrao is the author of Man, Oh Man (Orson's Publishing, 2018) and Gut Text (11:11 Press, 2019). His work has been featured in publications such as Entropy, Always Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis where he earned his B.A. in film and English literature at the University of Minnesota. Learn more at www.mikecorrao.com.