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Review: The Punjabi Weddings, by Tariq Latif

Tariq Latif's third collection The Punjabi Weddings also embraces creatures like a crab 'Caught in a tidal tango' and a 'Hapless jelly-fish'. Latif is literally wonderful at sensing and illuminating the interconnectedness of things 'as sea-water mixes / in my blood, mingles with the molecules / from my mother's amniotic ocean.' The insights of science stop him straying into metaphysics. In returning a dead crab to the sea he is not making a gift to 'Christ or Shiva', but offering 'crab / for the waves to grind and reclaim / each compound back into itself.' His poem 'Carbon' alludes to several religions in expressing ecstasy.

In 'Recycling the Self', he contemplates the scope of the molecules, minerals, and desires 'Afloat within' his blood cells. Some of these are near abstracts made particular,'traces of ozone from a thunder storm', a connection to the origin of the universe, 'faint isotherms from the big bang'; others are more tangible, 'sweat beads from my father's fist', and personal, 'a yearning for saag gosht'. He manages considerable equanimity in imagining letting go of them all in a 'blissful, blazing pyre' so that his 'carbonised residuals' can achieve transcendence as they 'seep into muck and filter to the air / as breath for lilies; their nectar / sweet as my mother's milk.'

Latif is uplifting not just in the way he writes about death but for braving the much more difficult experience of being with someone who is dying. 'Fractures', 'Moon Drops' and 'Star Matter', show acute awareness of pain, but they are not harrowing. Despite feeling 'useless', 'Star Matter' ends tenderly by placing the personal in the cosmic: 'I place my mouth, on hers and slowly / our breathing becomes one breath / sacred and unholy / hard with life and soluble in death / the same; as we were, as we are / bright and dark matter.'

As well as personal epiphanies, Latif is also strong on cultural differences and 'Variations in History'. In 'Iqbal's Halal Shop, Manchester', preconceptions are smashed with splendid dramatic irony.