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To a Friend

The flames of war flare to the sky

Earth’s quarters shrill with famine loud

Rivers and streams, tear-filled, run high –

You lie lulled in your bed of clouds.

Armed fear and doubt in men’s hearts scream

Tempests hurl down peaks that rose proud:

The mob-mass volcanoes erupt

Pouring out molten lava streams

You lie lulled in your bed of clouds.

From every eye hot anguish streams

The shaken earth cries out aloud

From each side Death’s black banners gleam

You lie lulled in your bed of clouds.

Eyes widened a moment, you glance from the sky

Else, distant as the moon, you wait.

Has pity in your heart run dry –

– Or do you foresee your fate?

Translated by Lakshmi de Silva





I lived

amidst festering wounds

the moans of maimed sons hurt me


I suffered


I don’t know the faces

of the sons who perished in faraway places


I am not going to ask

whether there was wisdom or beauty

in their faces


I cannot demean

the memories of those selfless souls

who caught the first bus that came by


I cannot hurl a question

at those tender shoots

swept by the whirlwind


Even yesterday

two died

I didn’t ask for details


Oh, compassionate ones

do you hear

the crow cawing

the cock crowing

the trees swaying in the wind ?


Death just happens

today’s monster

has devoured tomorrow’s dream

time rolls on


Those who went far away to pluck fruits

never returned

their prophets not sighted again

and no answer yet to my quest for light


As I destroyed myself through self-denial

my son left to give his life some meaning

my dreams died

he had hearkened to the call of the land


I will narrate my disturbing thoughts

I will narrate the heavy load of my painful days

let me speak

in the language of festering wounds


Finally he came to me

his body was cold

no mosquitoes came to suck blood

I did not permit the flies

to approach him


Translated by S Pathmanathan



Dirge for Corporal Premaratne

When you lay crushed that midnight

with the other hundreds in uniform

under the train mined at Mankulam

I gloated over the destruction

Not yours but of your uniform

Not yours but of Oppression

of Tyranny, of Militarism

But in today’s Daily News

reading your Appreciation

I suddenly realize –

that night there was a young wife

turning in her bed, desiring restlessly

her long absent lover-husband

that night there was a small child

dreaming in his bed waiting anxiously

for chocolates from his dear thathi

from tiger-infested Northern jungles

I suddenly visualize

the husband behind the Uniform

the father behind our slogans

But I’m no sentimental fool.

I know well if you now arise

and your eyes happen to catch me

you’ll not see a son, a brother,

a poet scribbling some lines for you

but a demala balla* a sworn Enemy

a Terrorist destructive and deadly.

As you level your gun with hatred

I’ll bolt for my life, you pursuing

and in your enraged eyes can be seen

many prejudiced schoolday lessons

daily slanted media messages

weekly chauvinist religious sermons

If you are lucky enough to catch up

or unluckily I fall within range

you’ll leave me bullet-ridden

bayonet-chopped boot-battered

like your favourite Kottu-rotti†;

if you still have enough energy

you’ll loot my watch, my TV

and make a bonfire of my house;

if you have still more life

you’ll devote some time to my wife

leaving her polluted, you amused

with my son gaping at your antics;

while I unnoticed decompose

under the daily heap of torsos

no one singing a dirge for me.


* demala balla – Tamil dog

† Kottu-rotti – Shredded foodstuff