rizio yohannan raj

1. Umbra

On a sane morning, the shadow
follows me awhile, feeding fast
on my usual fears, changing figure,
scale, drive—enticing me no end
to come unto death soon-sooner.

By midday, a phenomenal obscurity
envelopes the earth; it covers me up
in a playmaker’s molten form, rendering
me reckless of darkness, dread, doom.
The moment seems a light year.

It rewires my most primal instincts
with an electric vibrancy: a campaign
to kill the long dragon of desolation,
a persistent revelation of sheer play.
I make my tracker unreal. Time shifts.

On a lunatic night, hallowed by the stellar
diaspora, I am reborn: a multi-limbed one
casting myself on mama’s bedside wall,
as animals, trees, fish, phantasmal beings—
my subliminal initiation into the ecliptic.

Umbra, Miraculous Catastrophe,
my terror’s soul sister, earth’s total eclipse,
you have been conquered without your
knowing: No more speculative remedies,
no more sacrifices in your haunted house.

Dying from want of secrets
is the daybreaking destiny
I offer all my opaque material.


2. Penumbra

The poet1 praises a warrior god
for steadily crossing the forest
and the sea—in an honorable act
of transient disappearance, verily
risking his control over the matter.

The wise men chorus: Limitless,
he is spread in all the beings
made of the five elements—
like the soul in the body,
like the sensations in the organs.

I see a galactic fancy seize
the illumined earth at a distance.
In just a grand passing moment,
it turns our milky way into a warzoneof shadows—a bloody puppet play.

In the dim-lit koothumadam,
the fiery goddess2 relishes the showers
of arrows and the spectacle of bodies
falling in beautiful movements—
perfectly synchronized, dreamlike.

Penumbra, Princess of the Peripheries,
my semi-blind Comrade, Sheer Thought
treading my mind’s distancing magic,
you let me be an insider to darkness,
and an outsider to luminescence, at once.

And, my eyes tend to learn how knowing
emerges from ethereal unknowing,
as if it were a perspective–the resolution
a crisis doggedly demands of an artist,
Its inadequacies scare me to death.

But, the demons battling the gods now
reveal to me the secret plot of the story
of the dexterous enlightenment that animates
the magnificent shadow play of puppets:

It is the same cosmic saga. Simple:
A body’s position in the field decides
where time ends, and eternity begins.

1. Kambar’s Tamil version of the Ramayana is used as the text of the shadow puppetry performance Tolpavakkoothu.
2. Tolppavakoothu is a ritualized performance dedicated to Bhadrakali.

3. Antumbra

You are a child’s art making:
a gold-rimmed black football
rolling among orange blossoms.
A cosmic comic. A delight.

Circle of Passion, I beckon the wise
to describe your strange peace:
That is complete, this is complete,
from completeness comes completeness.

You are a vision of simultaneity:
the oneness of the world’s creation
and its end. Beginning in the end.
End in the beginning.

You are a circular flight of imagination—
a primeval drawing of nought, a paradox:
Completeness remains on removing
completeness from completeness.

It reveals the redemptive aspects of distance.
Through a mere act of witnessing,
I learn to open and close at my leisure,
my remembrance, which is also my oblivion.

Antumbra, I surrender to you
the sole sign of my inexhaustible freedom:
My childlike genius to annul the eclipse
through a play with its own ring of fire.

Oracle of Tranquility, the change that I am,
you invest me with the unbearable lightness
of a weird calling: to grant myself a nirvana permit
that no cosmic matter can ever eclipse.

Duty-bound, I exit the cycle of ruin:
I move away from you,
changing you into a radiant globe;

Inspired, I exit the cycle of creation:
I come closer to you,
turning you into my darkest core.

With such simple moves of limbs,
I choose between my moments
of knowing and unknowing.

Watching your fleeting brilliance,
I now stand serenely between
my captivity and deliverance:

a symbol of my own hope,
a metaphor for myself.

1. Invocatory verse of the Isha Upanishad.
2. Ibid.

rizio yohannan raj

A bilingual writer, educationist, and governance thinker, Rizio is Founder of LILA Foundation for Translocal Initiatives, a Cultural Trust. Her experience spans two decades of work in journalism, book publishing, and academics. Her writings include three collections of poetry, two novels, two academic volumes, edited works, research papers and more. She is the Creative Director of ILF Samanvay, the annual Indian Languages Festival of the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

Photo credit: Bharat Tiwari