in seventy-seven
the twilight spread like terror
fear blossomed like night flowers
in those sari days
when you told me
not to
wear a pottu
it’s not safe
they’ll mistake you for a tamil;
and i knew you loved me
but i could say balthiya unlike you
if authenticity was needed

inoculated by fear
of those who did not have the tongue
to say balthiya
a matter of the letter b or the letter v
that gave one away
a letter that stood between
safety and danger
a pottu
a letter
little things

schooled of the glory
of kissing feet of robed rogues
of false teeth
of pandered histories
in traditions’ lies
always an impostor
if only the others knew
what i saw
where false offerings were made
where flowers were wasted
for a trip
to a place unknown non existent

the southern daughter
who did not know
how safe she felt in the company
of a sinhala father with a gun
sinhala manhood
declared in strong mahaththaya language
where you win
with the tone of your voice
and the stance of your spine

where some sign in objects
like a siren call
hanging a bought wesak lantern to say
don’t shoot me i am buddhist
i am sinhalese!
there are no tamils here!
and the lantern glows in the dark
a buddhist flag watches
security symbols
just in case there is another riot
just in case they see you are tamil

to carry a tamil name
to show a tamil face
a death sentence
a passport to nowhere
loss your birthright
limbo your heaven
homeless your middle name
an empty well bottomless your fear;
what you learned in seventy-seven
they branded with hot steel and blessed with gasoline
in eight-three.

buddhist compassion sold on tourist posters
the betel marked toothsome smile
is that blood or is it something else?
our famous sri lankan hospitality
spread around europe by teagirls
in saris – no pottu
and pretty pictures of sculpted rock
feeding fragile egos
had its bottom pulled from under
as seventy-seven turned to eighty-three
and we did not see –
what had been wrought in our name

the sinhala in me
carries the guilt of es-dubya-arr-dee
for burned books
for burned bodies
for tongues tied
that knew the loving fire of gasoline on skin
soon to sear
on our way to bloody hell
the same love we see in words thrown around
like sperm at a rape-fest in war
straight-spined spewed words burning gasoline-love

i carry the guilt like a cancer
to die sorry
knowing the mob got under my skin
in seventy-seven
in sari days
when my hand became suddenly too heavy
to rise to my forehead
to draw a pottu
on my naked face
we colluded
my hand and your fear

my country burns but you see no fire
the smoke of compassion’s ashes
the embers of bodies long unburied
of the sweet comforts of colombo long lost to gasoline thirty years old
lost to thugs
lost to the sinhala mob
lost to the sinhalese who watched silent
that still walk across the angry sinhala sky, dutugemunus on lumbering elephants
naming jaffna encampments ELARA!

my country burns like a million kataragama fires
of bodies stripped naked and burning coals
not to forget the terror of the raped
when you lost your brother your mother your sister your father;
your daughter;
your son;
when your places of comfort were taken like terrified virgins in war.

i am sorry
i am sorry you thought that way of me and my people
for having done this to you
that is what it felt like that week; burning in terror just before dying
running from homes in horror betrayed
i am sorry to you and to your children and their children’s children
there is no forgiveness that can ever be earned
or learned
in the face of this  arrogance as big as a stupa
compassion that ends at the garden fence
as you wander
the aisles of supermarkets
looking for curry leaves

just how hard is it
to say one little word
for a brother, a sister?



One thought on “pottu

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