1983, A J Canagaratna, A Prosperous Spring, A. JESURASA, Big Match, In Memory of the Anonymous Dead, Mirrored Images: An Anthology of Sri Lankan Poetry, poems, Poetry, SUNANDA MAHENDRA, Yasmine Gooneratne
A Prosperous Spring
This is the winter’s end when days pass ever so slow
the new grass and the tender leaves yet to open their eyes.
Gentle rains blending with the softest snow
fall intermittently on the earth.
This is the end of winter which enlivens
this London park.
Like smoke balls
linger in the blue skies
giant, gaunt trees sans leaves
with linear patterns on them
soothe the spirit when you watch.
Not stopping to see
I walk across the park.
It’s said spring will dawn in a few days time
this time it’s going to be a prosperous one
I feel lonely and cannot abide the time.
Do come and join me my love
they say this time it’s going to be
a prosperous spring
Sharp, green tender shoots burst forth
splitting the trees
heads slightly raised.
Is it the spring for which they yearn?
The groves amidst the park, do they too await the spring?
This time round, will it be
a prosperous spring?
In Memory of the Anonymous Dead
All Souls Day
The graveyard gates open wide
for throngs of mourners
those who lived and died in comfort
Florid inscriptions on tombstones describe them
and the handiwork of hired masons
Crosses and angels and the Virgin Mary too
In the south east corner
stand ordered rows of sepulchres
commemorating in marble
the reverend fathers and sisters also laid to rest
Near the well
at the foot of the coconut tree
flowers twined round a sea-shell cross
and beneath the mounds
burials of those unknown
neither names nor places of birth
buried here lie the anonymous dead
whose identity nevertheless we may discern
are those who stood on shore
hauling in nets
and dying dehydrated like dried fish
while the merchants battened
on the fish they had hauled in day after day
are those whose backs were bowed
by the weight of the sacks
they unloaded in the harbour
are those who pushed for their living
handcarts piled high with firewood
are those who carried away
in the early hours of the dawn
nightsoil from the houses standing on the roads
that intersect the town
Here lie buried
all who toiled and mourned;
but even in the graveyard
boundaries separate them
sepulchres and mounds demarcate and divide
making and marking the classes and the mass
Translated by A J Canagaratna
Big Match, 1983
Glimpsing the headlines in the newspapers,
tourists scuttle for cover, cancel their options
on rooms with views of temple and holy mountain.
“Flash point in Paradise.” “Racial pot boils over.”
And even the gone away boy
who had hoped to find lost roots, lost lovers,
lost talent even, out among the palms,
makes timely return giving thanks
that Toronto is quite romantic enough
for his purposes.
Powerless this time to shelter or to share
we strive to be objective, try to trace
the match that lit this sacrificial fire.
the steps by which we reached this ravaged place.
We talk of “Forty Eight “and “Fifty Six”,
of freedom and the treacherous politics
of language; see the first sparks of this hate
fanned into flame in Nineteen Fifty Eight,
yet find no comfort in our neat solution,
no calm abstraction, and no absolution.
The game’s in other hands in any case.
These fires ring factory, and hovel,
and Big Match fever, flaring high and fast,
has both sides in its grip and promises
dizzier scores than any at the oval.
In a tall house dim with old books and pictures
calm hands quiet the clamoring telephone.
“It’s a strange life we’re leading here just now,
not a dull moment. No one can complain
of boredom, that’s for sure. Up all night keeping watch,
and then as curfew ends and your brave lads
dash out at dawn to start another day
of fun, and games, and general jollity,
I send Padmini and the girls to a neighbor’s house.
Who, me? – Oh I’m doing fine. I always was
a drinking man you know and nowadays
I’m stepping up my intake quite a bit,
the general idea being that when those torches
come within fifty feet of this house don’t you see
it won’t be my books that go up first, but me.”
A pause. Then, steady and every bit as clear
as though we are neighbors still as we had been
In Fifty Eight. “Thanks, by the way for ringing.
There’s nothing you can do to help us but
it’s good to know some lines haven’t yet been cut.”
Out of the palmyrah fences of Jaffna
bristle a hundred guns.
Shopfronts in the Pettah, landmarks of our childhood
Curl like old photographs in the flames.
Blood on their khaki uniforms, three boys lie dying;
a crowd looks silently the other way.
Near the wheels of his smashed bicycle
at the corner of Duplication Road a child lies dead
and two policemen look the other way
as a stout man, sweating with fear, falls to his knees
beneath a bo-tree in a shower of sticks and stones
flung by his neighbor’s hands.
The joys of childhood, friendships of our youth
ravaged by pieties and politics
screaming across our screens her agony
at last exposed, Sri Lanka burns alive.