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A mother turns over in the hospital bed

to stare dreamily at an empty crib. A silent

child with unmoving limbs resides in her

pupils. The pupils dilate as if trying to hold

fantasy in the blackness of its void.

She blinks. Reality wraps itself around

sight and the image of the child disappears

like the swell in her belly. Here, there are

no tears, only a woman with womb wearing

motherhood around her neck like absence

of gold. A mother without child feebly

clinging to herself in an attempt to

compensate for the self she had lost.

Somewhere far away, a son sits on

the kitchen floor, watching his mother prepare

his tea. A metal spoon unloads tea powder

into a glass cup and dances around it.

Water transforms into blood. The brown

powder, a bleeding goldfish undoing birth

in a glass tank. The son blows on his

mother’s blood, too warm for his liking,

and sips on it slowly. He does this daily.

The mother hangs her heart on the kitchen

wall, along with the winnower and watches

her flesh outgrow her flesh. The ghosts

come through the mist, whisper secrets

in her ear. The son finishes his tea and

leaves the empty cup on the table.



In his book The Complete Memoirs, published a year after his death in 1973, the poet describes

the rape of a woman, “a Tamil of the pariah caste” which he committed when he was the consul

of Chile, between 1929 and 1930, in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). “It was the coming

together of a man and a statue. She kept her eyes wide open all the while, completely

unresponsive. She was right to despise me,” he recounted in the book.

—El País—

A brown hand, reaching from the dark, picks

The sun from the lower branch of the mandarin

Tree. Brown fingers stroking smooth orange skin.

On and into the flesh. The sun is peeled.

Liquid light trickles down staining hungry hands.

A white man with a shadow for his head sits

At a wooden writing desk and extends his hand

To a woven basket of fruit. A fat beam of light

Squeezes through the barred iron window

And slithers upstream along the white arm.

Fingers wrap around the fruit. Nails sink

Into the skin. The mandarin falls in segments

Like a sun ready to be pickled on the palm

Of a white hand. All but one is rotten.

A white hand gathers brown breasts beside

The fluttering pages of an unwritten memoir.

Feeling the roundness of fruit. Artificially

Ripened. Stolen from the hostess's garden.

Arms lifted. Roots setting off to seek another land.

Picker of words turns picker of fruit, picking

Mandarins from statue-like brown-trunked trees.

Light enters the room in translucent shafts,

Clothing man in shame. He has no face.

A girl takes her brown hands to a well and dunks

Them in a bucket of water. She sits on the

Well-grass with her sun-stained hands dipped

In clear bucket-water. Later, she will drink

From the same bucket, before retching into

The same. The sun will solidify once again,

And parting the vomit, float on to the surface.



 After Krisantha Sri Bhaggiyadatta


In the dust that rises in the evening sun

a child plays hopscotch while his mother's arm

slices the thick air and presses a ball of rice

to his mouth. His eyes, unmoving from

the mango seed he had just thrown into

a childishly-drawn square on red earth—

its four line-walls, the only boundaries 

marking the map of this memory. His

mother's fingers, swiftly shaping worlds

on top of a metal plate and holding them

against a stubborn mouth. The child,

unaware of fingers, or rice, aware only

of game. In a few years, when time 


throws him into the future, like a misshapen 

mango seed that will not arrive at the proper

square, he will sit at an office desk

and envy the child who could have watched

a woman's fingers shape worlds on top 

of a metal plate, but didn't, too engrossed

in game. That Sunday noon, when the sun


was a wound bleeding light, an invisible hand

reached out from the sky and, picking me,

placed me on our roof. I walked to its edge,

balancing on terracotta tiles, in a ridiculous 

half-step, half-hop, until I was close enough

to take your hand. Your face, terracotta red

with anger, or pain, or shame that

is the lovechild of anger and pain,

staring at the ground that is life and death.

We sat on the roof in silence, holding hands, 

and I thought to myself that this—and only 

this—is our version of prayer. Our roofs 


are red because God cries blood, later 

you told me and I nodded without understanding, 

because you were there, speaking in your

half-whisper, half-something else voice

and I was there, feeling the warmth 

of your breath, and in that moment

that was enough. You did it two months later.

I did not cry. Somewhere a girl in a red dress


looks into a mirror, forgets to smile. Her

husband places bindi on her forehead-

marked like a cow, for ownership. 

She bites her own tongue, a splash 

of blood spilling onto her white neck,

a decapitated cow. She, holy (like a cow)

yet unholy, cooking her own flesh and

serving it in a bowl. Girlhood walks

into womanhood in a wedding dress, and

womanhood walks into war with a shield.

Here, there are no weapons. The wars


we fight shapeshift, into memories and 

then into love, into bodies and then into 

death. Wars which are not ours end

in victory or in defeat. The wars 

which are ours do not end. 

Ranudi Gunawardena is a Sri Lankan poet, writing in English and Sinhala. Most of her poetry explores love, loss, memory, and death. Her work has been published in many American and Sri Lankan magazines including Samfiftyfour, Kopi Collective, and Wachana. She is currently a student at Williams College and enjoys rereading The Picture of Dorian Gray and pressing flowers in her spare time.

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