Poetry, Post-War

The heartbeat of my country

The heartbeat of my country
Crashes as wave against rock
Bursts into spray and song,
It roars down monsoon-swollen rivers,
Drips one reluctant drop at a time
From the leaves of a bo tree.

My country’s heartbeat
Resonates as drumbeat and dance step,
Rolls off the udekki, the geta bera and thammatama,
Turns somersaults along the Street of Pageantry and Veneration.

The heartbeat of my country
Resides in every clod of earth turned at ploughing,
It rides the unwavering voice of the farmer coaxing his buffalo,
And dances in the harvest song,
Traces the contour of tank bund,
Rises with the rural dust of drought-heavy days,
Slows with nightfall and awakes at first light.

The heartbeat of my country
Has been captured in verse and prose,
Etched on rock and manuscript,
Carved on collective memory
Residenced in lives and livelihoods.

My country’s heartbeat is as much an epic
As that of any other land;
Made of triumph and defeat,
Theft and magnanimity,
Intrigue and passion,
Blood-letting and benevolence;
A chronicle of kings and queens and
People and events,
A gathering of stories
Of invasion, defence and recovery.

My country’s heartbeat is resilient.
It can be pushed against the wall,
Crushed under the jackboot of invader or tyrant,
But it is far too tender for destruction.

My country’s heartbeat is the resolve
To overcome tragedy
Bury it with a smile and move on.
It is the fuel
That turns an island into a dansala
Twice every year,
And conjures kiribath on the most humble table
Come the Aluth Avurudda.

My country’s heartbeat
Arrives as laughter and tear,
The steaming cup of tea
And the red of a betal chew,
It is the dance of the toddy-tapper,
The patience of stilt-fishermen,
The shrewdness of the Southern businessman,
The PR of the trader,
The thrift of the gentle folk from the Peninsula,
The faith of the devotee that walks on coals
Or is suspended on hooks from a Vel cart.

My country’s heartbeat is white
On Poya days and funerals,
red on May Day,
multi-coloured on polling days;
it has seen black days
and has known sunsets bathed in tears,
death, destruction and dismemberment,
and yet it is an unguent that sutures
the most terrible cuts,
a song that persuades embrace,
and a constant call to meditation.

I have heard the heartbeat of my country
In the tolling of the bell on Samanala Kana,
The healing drone of pirith weaving its way
Through tree and conversation,
In the call for prayer,
Allah O Akbar,
The church choir and the hymn
And the chanting of the Poosari.

My country’s heartbeat
Is, in fact, indescribable
And this gladdens me,
For I do not wish to see it traded
I do not wish to see it defined and bled,
Contoured and decimated.

I live in a country whose heartbeat sings to me
And perhaps others.
It gives me heart
It gives me life
And lets me breathe.
I am content.