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Riding Alone by Ashok Bhargava
reviewed by Cynthia Sharp

Riding Alone
Ashok Bhargava
Global Fraternity of Poets


Ashok Bhargava is a poet who strives to live peacefully in all his interactions, with self, with others, with the divine and with 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.

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 bravely be 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 in to 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 still 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.

Cynthia Sharp is the author of Rainforest in Russet (Silver Bow Publishing, 2018) and The Light Bearers in the Sand Dollar Graviton (Sweetgrass in the Wind, 2018) as well as the editor of Poetic Portions, a Canadian anthology honouring Earth Day (Sweetgrass in the Wind, 2015). Her poetry can be found in numerous literary journals such as CV2, untethered, Ascent Aspirations Magazine’s Friday’s Poems, Lantern Magazine and Poetry Quarterly, among others and broadcast internationally.