Sri Lanka – June 2009


I travelled to Sri Lanka in June to visit a good friend, Sonaali.  I was distracted during this time because the war was on when I arrived and was over when I left.  Emotions were more than usually heightened and I felt vulnerable and disconnected.  It was not all bad! I saw the elephants at the orphanage…

Elephant having his bath

Elephant having his bath

…and roamed around the wonderful garden in Kandy (after the UN and the press and the president had left but that is another tale).

lovely flower in the botanical gardens in Kandy

lovely flower in the botanical gardens in Kandy

In spite of Sonaali’s howling protests (the last time I took public transportation in Sri Lanka in 2000 I ended up in hospital with double pneumonia) I took the train down from Kandy.  I was moved to write two poems whilst I was there.



Reaching through the narrow
Opening of a ten hour flight
I tumbled into infinity.

It was like putting my hand
Into a box of air and knowing
Something (anything) should be there.

Try as I might
I could not even hit the sides
Let alone pick anything up.

And yet it was all there.
Everything was there.
It’s not like there was nothing there.

The intercity hurtled down
the hill at 20 kilometers an hour
enforced by the Speed Detector
in his Speed Detector’s hut
mangoes hung from trees
like yoyos at the ends of their tethers
and a little boy in a spider man outfit
chased chickens in the yard
bananas grew up side down and the
worn metal plates that link the cars
screeched and the doors that do not shut
rattled and as I stood there
with the wind in my hair
I realised
I had a fleeting moment of peace.

But then I realised
Everything and no one
Was there.

In the transition

Speeches by a president garbed in white
flanked by his brothers
to the left and the right.

Posters, pictures, banners, bunting
fire crackers crack and
the government is hunting.

The press is called
and a minister cries,
“You are a peddler of filthy lies.

We won the war
all fair and square
you saw it all, our press were there.

They lost the war
all right and tight
those terrorists ran out of fight.

Now they’re in camps
and you can’t go
until we sort out friend from foe.”

People speak in whispers.

The sound of fighter jets
is so loud I duck and cover,
even if I shout
I cannot be heard.
Young men and women point
machine guns indiscriminately
as they know from experience
that anybody can be an assassin.
Walls studded with shards of broken glass
are crowned with barbed wire
and shod with sandbags
to protect buildings we cannot see.

People speak in whispers.

Emotions, like taste buds,
burned at the end of my tongue.
Like nerve endings,
they ran over my skin.

If you like these poems you can read more of my work by clicking this link to my poetry.

For more elephant and flower photos, follow the link!