MOTHERS AND SONS
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.
THE FRUITS OF NERUDA
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.
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.
THEY DON'T DECLARE WAR ANYMORE
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.