Like milk from a cactus tree
Love is pouring around me
I came upon Please Come Home, a collection of poetry by Ethiopian born Guthema Roba, while browsing the stacks of the public library. The discovery was instantly familiar and challenging. In the tradition of ecstatic Sufi, Zen, and Urdu poets, Roba celebrates life in a storm of lyricism.
He trends towards the prescriptive, citing koans, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water,” using poetry as a means of experiencing life.
In “A Poet’s Responsibility,” he writes, “A poet’s responsibility is to awaken/ to remind you of your beauty/ To be the arrow of light/ Pointing at your heart.”
The poetry’s simple imagery often mirror the classic themes of Sufi poetry: dissolution of Ego, unity with the beloved, reverie in life.
In a long and satisfying poem, “The Union,” Roba describes a moment of clarity,
“While driving on highway 100, homeward last night, I heard a voice and looked up. The sky was birthing another full-grown sky…Winds blew rapidly from one corner to another. These did not bother the silence of the sky… As I watched this, something magical happened. The distance between the sky/ and where I stood/dissolved.”
Sufi themes dominate the collection: Roba writes, “Beloved/for years, so many years/ words have been barriers/now/ I remove the words/ and/ YOU and I are ONE”
A thematic sibling of Rumi’s “Lovers don’t meet somewhere/ They’re in each other all along.”
Roba writes: “When the glass knows/ The taste of the wine/ When she bows/ to the perfume of the wine/ she would rise beyond glories or fame.”
We see echoes of Fariduddin Attar in Jamal: “One who has tasted a drop of your wine today is happy drunk and dazed till judgement day.”
In one of the most intimate poems of the collection, Roba recounts an exchange with his four-year-old daughter:
“As I was washing dishes one morning, my daughter came over and said, “Daddy, what is love?”
“I said to her—Love is when you share your books and toys with your friends. Love is when you see an insect on the floor and take it out without hurting it./ That afternoon another answer came like this:– Love/ is recognizing a pure space/ within us/ into which/ we dissolve/ completely.”
Roba has given us an erudite and moving collection, reflective of a man with spiritual concerns on earth. It’s well worth the time.