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AFLAME – Remembering Black July, 1983

AFLAME – Remembering Black July, 1983

What is a poem
to a man hiding
in the cellar
of his neighbor’s house,

breathing the way
his hostess spices
lentils and mutton,
while son and daughter

keep quiet,
not one word
in the mother tongue,

and wife strokes
her neck,
the golden wings
of her thali,

and across the lane
a mob, ruffians,
tontons macoutes,
lynch squad, a few

holy men, politicians
in white vershtis,
light rage
and sew pestilence

in summer fires
that turn houses
to foundation stones
and stoke residents

out to shelter
at  neighbors,
St. Peter’s College,
the police station

near Bambalapitya Flats,
before three days
voyage on a ship
hungry to Kankesanthurai

where soldiers
have been swinging
cricket bats
and teenage boys

have stopped
playing cricket,

into resistance:
this war, these
flames burning
every day since,

and even before,
50 years ago,
1958, when mobs
first enforced

what was deemed
the people’s will.
by unleashing
latent and dark

social energies,
microbes that murder,
that insist on power
as well as alms,

that circulate
in the body politic
and can only
be diffused,

distracted, educated,
out of existence

so Ceylon
may take a bow,
step out
of retirement,

save the side
with sixes,
and at the
victory party

speak of boar
and partridge,
gottukola and
other medicinal

greens, traits
of the veddah,
and how
good neighbors

gave food
gave shelter
the goondas?

July 16, 2008


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