The Riddle of Longing, Faisal Mohyuddin’s ecstatic, brimming, debut chapbook begins with the lines: “We have always been the displaced children of displaced children, / tethered by distant rivers to abandoned lands, our blood’s history lost.” This stunning couplet sets the tone for a series of poems centered on the family, charged with the exilic energies of a diasporic consciousness, committed to rearticulating home—in vowel and consonant, in the reimagined last breath of a father, in “flame-lipped testimonies,” and in the felled banyan trees populating a nightmare. “Exile,” Mohyuddin tells us, “begins where rivers end,” and this terminus is where his poems also originate: on a strangely beautiful threshold where the cartographers are blind, the theologians, blindfolded, and where a child folds the sky into a winged horse from a thin ribbon of wind. Mohyuddin’s poetry ranges from the Punjab to Arab Andalusia, from Chicago to a space shuttle orbiting Earth, expertly shifting between forms, including the sonnet and the ghazal. In poem after poem, Mohyuddin grounds himself in the terra firma of imagination and empathy, braiding together personal, cultural, and political histories; his rejoinder to loneliness and longing: “Whatever you can give, / while you still have time left / in which to give, / give.”
Mohyuddin gives mightily throughout this chapbook, in the tradition of Douglass, DuBois, Ghandi, and Rumi, figures he invokes and emulates. The poem “Faisalabad” perhaps displays the poet’s gifts most distinctly as Mohyuddin weaves together the origin of his own name, the strands of his own familial history, the colonial legacies ghosting through the “Manchester of Pakistan,” the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and a profound mediation on the circuitous exigencies of language and power. The following lines from “Faisalabad” emblematize the gentle ferocity at the center of Mohyuddin’s work: “Heaven, Muslims believe, / lies beneath a mother’s feet. I fall short / of them every moment of my life.” Few contemporary American poets write as lovingly, as winningly, as directly, and as humbly about being a son (or, indeed, about being a father, as Mohyuddin does so movingly in “To Be a Fisherman or a Father, You Must”). The natural radiance of these poems, their foregrounding of the blood harmonies rhapsodized in the idle hours of family life, the tender wisdom of this work renders The Riddle of Longing a must-read. Traveling through this collection is like looking at starlight while paying attention to your own “inner burning, from which a new kind of love is being forged.”
Dante Di Stefano is the author of two poetry collections: Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016) and Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, forthcoming 2019). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Sewanee Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for the DIALOGIST. Along with María Isabel Alvarez, he is the co-editor of Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump's America (NYQ Books, 2018).