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Spring Shoots

SUNANDA MAHENDRA

 

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

dark patches

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

they say

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?

 

A. JESURASA

 

In Memory of the Anonymous Dead

 

All Souls Day

The graveyard gates open wide

for throngs of mourners

 

Sepulchres house

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

 

Buried here

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

 

Buried here

are those whose backs were bowed

by the weight of the sacks

they unloaded in the harbour

 

Buried here

are those who pushed for their living

handcarts piled high with firewood

 

Buried here

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

 

flames

YASMINE GOONERATNE

 

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.

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