Tag Archives: cancer

Riding Alone by Ashok Bhargava

Ashok Bhargava is a poet who strives to live peacefully in all his interactions, with self, others the divine and his struggle through cancer. Riding Alone chronicles that journey. Even his introduction offers an example of peace, to serve as the flawed and beautiful beings we are, “These poems express my place in the universe and my belief in myself, though I am deeply flawed…Not everyone understood my situation. That was okay. This battle I didn’t choose.”

His opening question sets the tone and theme of the humanitarian search for enlightenment and meaning. “So how does the brain that lives in total darkness build for us a world of light?” he asks. In the midst of eternity, Bhargava calls us to live in the present, a chosen fullness, a rich tapestry that invites love through generations and gentle time travel rooted in today. “The nature of time is not loneliness but companionship,” he asserts in “Infinite Time, Boundless Love.” (p. 20) Riding Alone confirms that truth. It offers not only verse, love and being, but fractured time returned to wholeness. Through the collection, the poet explores what it means to see, grasping the inner workings of light. His kindness reassures us that we were always good enough, all the parts of ourselves through all the layers of time. In “Unsteady” he affirms, “I still have blue sky days/ I still have black sky nights…I am still as I am/ a beautiful light.” (p. 4) Riding Alone is about finding new narrative on the solitary journey through fragile pieces of heart we don’t know how to hold. In “Dolce Vita” he writes:

“Sometimes we aren’t
given a choice.
A profound sadness
in the full moon’s blue glow
Brings joy
I never thought possible.” (p. 18)

In the jolting juxtaposition of opening one’s soul toward acceptance and presence in the now even in the midst of loss, Bhargava is not afraid to be honest about the painful reality of an uncertain future as a result of his cancer diagnosis, yet in facing the deep universal fear that every being endures alone, he delivers an appreciation of the grace of now and the circle of life that transcends mortality. He takes the reader beyond acceptance to a state of worship, whatever one believes. In acknowledging the deep suffering of not knowing how long one may have, he moves the reader with him into profound gratitude. The stanzas are laid out as a clear, straightforward journey of darkest night into new reverence. This book doesn’t lie. It doesn’t pretend to have all answers or knowledge or to have been without grief. It simply stretches beyond those emotions to bend them toward fresh light, toward an acceptance of not knowing, toward fullness and wonder.

He offers day after day of rebirth, exploring the maturity of sunlit recovery in stanzas like this one from “Stones” that find meaning and abundance in what is:

“love isn’t wanting another to want me
it’s living contentedly with
who I am
what I have.” (p. 14)

His poetry is personal, public and profound all at once, as he offers kernels of individuality. This is especially evidenced in the way he lets us in to the beauty of his marriage in “Uncertain Waters:”

“The smells of
roses and daisies
Rainwater pools in the garden…
pine tree needles shimmer
become kaleidoscope
You held my hand
softly making me see
my whole lifetime floating by.
You craved to go with me
where things
light up on their own.” (p. 13)

Bhargava turns inevitable reality into deep layers of grace and teaches us to do the same, inviting us to care for our traumas in a similar gentleness, like the blessing of blue sky soaking in the glory of sweet cedar. His courageous insight reassures readers that we are allowed whole deep breaths and all the freedom it unleashes, to be all of who we are.

“Riding Alone is the story of how a soul navigates the ultimate communion with life through beliefs faced alone with courage mustered for loved ones and rebirth.”

He explores how to hold the imagery of a lifetime and all the lives connected to him. The influence of Hindi philosophy and lyricism in the poet’s unique voice conveys the universal human experience of grappling alone with the unknown, the journey to courage through whatever will be, however we are reborn. Through his words, “Pomegranate blossoms/ waiting to fall/ into night’s darkness/ till you reappear as/ light of dawn,” (p. 49) we are invited to dream in the beautiful colours he evokes, to remember our place in stillness, to experience an incandescent shift in perspective as we unfold into solitude and allow story to flow.

This is a wise author who knows that it’s in quiet that flowers speak, evident in his veneration of beloved relatives:

“A handful of ash
your last physical
dropped into mother Ganges
becomes a flower
drifts away.” (p. 30)

Riding Alone is the story of how a soul navigates the ultimate communion with life through beliefs faced alone with courage mustered for loved ones and rebirth, whether back into one’s current body or beyond, seeing either result as a dawn to be bravely met. In “Tomorrow,” Bhargava addresses the question all mortals wrestle with, “When the fires of love vanish/ where does forever go?” and answers with a natural ease, “We open our eyes/ it’s tomorrow.” Poems like “Everything” provide an immense calm in the face of an unknown cosmos. As a reader, I trust in his vision of beyond, at peace in the profound acceptance of now, of life, as is, whether or not our consciousness continues beyond what we know. Bhargava’s profound and loving acceptance opens the present to fullness, this second light of gentle spring emerging.

The poetry of Riding Alone is an acceptance of circumstance, self and truth with grace, breaking into the deepest parts of who we are and letting them be touched by light, hearing them, being honest with them that we don’t know how long we have, allowing them to speak their fear until it turns into the early candescence of dawn, then embracing that we don’t know what the dawn will be, only that light can still reach us, that our darkest hours return to grace, a grace within and beyond that reaches all the parts of our being. “Who will lament and temper the arrival of dawn?” he asks in “Morning Serenade.” (p. 1) The poet is open to a wide range of outlooks, encouraging readers to live well as who we are in the situations we find ourselves in. Bhargava’s words are a benediction to this mystery that is life, leading the way into meditative nirvana.

Riding Alone by Ashok Bhargava
Global Fraternity of Poets

About the Author: Ashok Bhargava is a poet, community activist, public speaker and keen photographer. He is the founder and president of Writers International Network Canada (WIN Canada) which recognizes and supports writers and artists of diverse backgrounds. He finds living between cultures and languages intriguing and stimulating and composes in both Hindi and English. He is the author of Mirror of Dreams, A Kernel of Truth, Half Open Door, Skipping Stones, Lost in the Morning Calm and Riding Alone. His poetry has been published in many literary journals and anthologies and featured in Canada on CBC Radio, Chanel M TV, Word on the Street, Poetic Justice and Pandora’s Collective, as well as at festivals through the world.

This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

This Side of Sad by Karen Smythe

Karen Smythe is the author of a short-story collection, Stubborn Bones, and Figuring Grief. Her stories have also appeared in Grain, the Fiddlehead, the Antigonish Review, and the Gaspereau Review. She lives in Guelph, Ontario.

This Side of Sad (2017, Goose Lane Editions) is Ms. Smythe’s first novel and it is a singularly fascinating one. It is told in the voice of Maslen, a fifty-ish woman who has just lost her husband James in what appears to be an accidental shooting behind their farm in Ontario. This, along with her recent health issues causes Maslen to consider her life and what, if anything she could have done for James (for she questions if it truly was an accident).

This Side of Sad is Ms Smythe’s first novel and it is a singularly fascinating one.

What if I could watch our life together unfold again, if I could unreel it, exhume it, observe it scene by random scene? Not only that one day or week, or even the months before, but the years before that: the whole of our life. Would that do it? Would that be enough to get me there, to the truth about what happened to James? To us? If I could see my entire life from one step back, watch it but at the same time remove myself from it, then maybe the true story about James and me would reveal itself. It might emerge like an apparition, oozing out of the spaces between the scrambled episodes.

So Maslen makes herself remember (“Make yourself remember. Go on.”), and it is these “scrambled episodes” which make up the pages of This Side of Sad. She begins by remembering the men in her life before James: Ted the medical student, then before him, Josh who became a famous male model. This takes us all the way back to her high school years. Begin, Beguiled, Beloved, Bereft and Blessed compose the book’s five parts, although they all flow together, despite the “scrambled” appearance of Maslen’s memories. However, her recollections build the story for us, at first dispersed like Legos or building blocks on the floor, then slowly reassembled forming a full picture of her past. Often, one thought will lead into other areas of life as is often the case. One day while visiting James’ father Lou in a nursing home, she muses that perhaps James had simply grown tired of his father:

Is it instinctive, this tiring of people you are close to? Perhaps it’s a primitive safeguard built into our reptile brains. Elderly parent, aggravating teenagers, long-time spouses – perhaps it’s a primal kind of coping, a natural weaning, a gradual hardening of heart before the end comes. Perhaps it makes for a smaller hole to fill after they’ve gone. I don’t know.

It is the writing of each of these “episodes” that is most arresting, especially when you step back and consider the whole of the narrative, disjointed as it might appear. I dog-eared several pages (I know, but it makes it easier for this reviewer to find the parts I especially like later on) that contained thoughtful (and thought-provoking) introspections for later re-reading. Two other author-reviewers used the adjective “wry” in describing This Side of Sad (“wry debut novel”, “wry humour”) which made me turn to a dictionary to see the context of this word. “Cleverly and often ironically or grimly humorous” was one definition – and it is accurate in this context- but I also liked this alternative: “bent, twisted, or turned usually abnormally to one side”. Maslen’s thoughts of her past require bending, twisting and turning in order to make sense of them as well as to make them fit together in her mind.

I was quite drawn to the character of Maslen, admiring her strength in the face of her surgery as well as James’ death shortly thereafter. Her ability to look back and glean what she can from her past relationships in order to alleviate (or ameliorate) the grieving process is admirable as well, and one that may hold the key for those in a similar predicament. There were moments when I did feel like putting this book aside (such as when she – ahem – details certain aspects of her liasons), but her train of thought quickly moved on to a different topic, recapturing my interest. As well, Maslen’s thoughts evolve as she matures and progresses through her friends, her sister Gina, her mother’s mental demise and the gradual drifting away of Josh and Ted.

As I mentioned at the outset, This Side of Sad is a fascinating book and one I enjoyed reading as time went on. Not exactly a diary, journal or a memoir, This Side of Sad is a collection of “scrambled episodes” that map out one woman’s travels down the road of past relationships and how they form who she is today. Added to the 2018 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017-2018 James FisherSome Rights Reserved