Friday, January 30, 2009


As I write more than 250,000 civilians are trapped in jungle near Mullaitivu,. They have little food, water and medicine. They are being injured and killed. They need help. Please speak to your representatives, write letters to your editors, insist that their plight be reviewed by the UN Security Council. Harming innocents is not a matter of internal security or civil war to be left to the warring parties in the Sri Lankan conflict. We must not be quiet. Let us make a lot of noise. Let us make the bombers accountable to us. Let us try to save a few lives. Indran

Saturday, January 24, 2009

To The Courts, In Remorse

Drop all charges
his glaucoma
needs treatment
and his wife
will be grateful,

…and the Dean
of the Diplomatic
Corps will feel
less inclined
to speak
at public
acts of grievance.

I agree
we must not
with funerals.
leaves a bitter
taste on
the BBC’s tongue.

will counsel
banning that
Yet, then

we must cope
with reporters
in disguise,
these pesky
who feel

to write
what they see
and hear
taste and
as if witness

can make
bread out
of flour
or yams
in a

And let me
not forget
the political
who worry
in public

that a failed
state will
be our cup
of tea.
I trust
you will
still drink

our fabled
and visit
our white


-- Indran Amirthanayagam c) 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009


“We’ve got to make this world a better place”, the song says. Today we are following the instructions. “I know we can make it. I know darn well”. Here we are making order, making peace. Here we are preparing the house for the invited guests. Tomorrow a new family will occupy the White House. Tomorrow a poet will read to the nation and the world on the Capitol steps. Tomorrow we will return to our lives changed, empowered, moving ahead with confidence.

“We are on earth a little space/to learn to bear the beams of love,” Blake wrote. “Raise high the roofbeams, Carpenter” Salinger told us. Let us raise our arms, friends. Our hearts. We have a garden. It needs water, fruit rinds, tubers, onion peels. And there is a copse nearby. Let that copse alone. Let us live in harmony with other fish ambling about on land. Let us glide, swim, waddle, and walk to walk; throw the car keys into the back drawer.

We shall move ahead with confidence. But let us not forget the errors made in our name. Let us set up a vigil at Constitution Avenue, at the Lincoln Memorial. Let us take back our streets.

First Street: a pact, friends.

Here are the details. Love our neighbor, whether human, fish, bird, worm, scorpion.

Love winds, sky, oceans. Let us learn how to recycle, how to cut down, trim. Let us bonsai our lives, rock garden them and put a pool in the middle. Let us adopt the Mexican custom of a fountain in every home.

Second Street:

Let us cross the borders, tackle difficult, painful wars that murder our spirit. Let us not be silent before them even if our only recourses are the letter to the editor and the vote. Let us not underestimate the power of that vote.

Third Street:

Care for our families. Inscribe the kids into Model UN. Read a poem a day. Say prayers. Sing. Dance for no particular reason and don’t always go to bed at 10. Set up patterns. Then muddy them up. Teach the children to live in the grey areas, to breathe powerfully and straight into the fog and darkness so their breaths will clear the way.

Fourth Street:

Love your neighbor. Cross over the Falls Road. Into Soweto. Downtown East Side. Remove the gates, friends, to the gated communities. Install electronic sensors instead. Yet, how can one tell the movement of one who does not belong, who comes to rob and pillage? Not easy ….Security in the midst of prosperity and poverty. Haves and Have nots. But let’s work to fashioning a world that runs on the word, the bond of man, the trust of Abel in his brother even if Abel will, and must, be killed.

Fifth Street….and I will stop here. There are five acts in the tragedy, in the comedy as well

I have cited Blake already on the beams of love. How about Ginsberg?

Hey Father Death,
I'm flying home
Hey poor man,
you're all alone
Hey old daddy,
I know where I'm going

Where are we going? What is the fifth street or the fiftieth? I am scared but am not yet straight. I am scared but I am taking omega 3, bitter melon and milk thistle. I am scared but I am in love. I am scared but I have my health and a healthy imagination. I am scared but I have a job. And I am grateful. Today I give thanks to Martin Luther King. To my friends. To this evening before the new morning in the United States, everywhere.

--Indran Amirthanayagam c)2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

One Of Us (Lasantha Wickrematunge)

One of Us

During civilized periods
in the history of kingdoms
courtiers, or the king’s
person himself,
in audience
with the gadfly,
would offer the fellow
death or exile.

These days
butcher their fly
in daylight
near security
in front of
bewildered subjects.

My Lord,
slayer of wild beasts
in northern
jungles, why must
we kill brother
Lasantha, shed
our own blood?

-- Indran Amirthanayagam, January 11, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

On LOVE MARRIAGE by V.V. Ganeshananthan

I write rarely about novels in this space dedicated to poetry. But once in a while I am moved to break the unnecessary chains and comment about strong new writing produced in prose in the Sri Lankan or Ceylonese diaspora. VV Ganeshananthan’s first novel Love Marriage is a brave and comprehensive work that mixes personal and political, national and international, diaspora and village, into a compelling story of Sri Lankan Tamils and their dilemmas, strangers in strange lands, expelled from home, trying in some cases to get back to their birthplaces.

Exile is the modern condition. We all seem to come from abroad. Meanwhile, Rimbaud noted that life is elsewhere. I read Ganeshananthan’s novel in a checkered manner, impressed by the powerful stories, interrupted by news from the island. I read Roma Tearne’s Mosquito in the same way. Sri Lankan stories get under my skin, bother my heart and sometimes work like a poison leading to literary paralysis.

What can one say about the unrelenting horror that the island has lived for more than 25 years, 50 if one goes back to the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 that began the disintegration of the calm, sea-bathing polity inherited in 1948. Now, I exaggerate. There have always been disputes and of course inequities. But short sighted policies to gain votes have come back to haunt the island like those horsemen of the apocalypse described powerfully by Tarzi Vittachi in Emergency 58. At least at that time, journalists were spared bullets or knives.

Now, all is changed. The recent murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader, confirms the disintegration of the polity into a chaos where life is nasty, brutish and short, where the rule of law should be renamed the rule of thugs.

In this context—and when is the right moment—to talk about imaginative literature, work that will have a shelf life beyond the particular murders and abuses in the daily political sphere? Of course, Ganeshananthan is also a journalist, a truth teller, which adds another layer of interest for readers of her novel.

So what are the truths revealed in this fiction? I invite readers to examine the novel, to engage its partial truths--Ganeshananthan creates a great variety of powerful and opinionated characters—and to reflect on the correspondences between their lives and the lives of her characters. I am not reviewing the novel here, assessing its merits as fiction or history. My view, in any case, would be shaped by my own prejudices. Yet in the end—to avoid the paralysis of not opining at all, which would be a silly conclusion to the problem of literary or, for that matter, journalistic impartiality—I say here unequivocally that my antennae are dancing thrilled with this novel

I leave you as a teaser with some passages from the novel:

“What he means is this: it would be false to say that there is a beginning to the story, or a middle, or an end. Those words have a tidiness that does not belong here. Our lives are not clean. They begin without fanfare and end without warning. This story does not have a defined shape or a pleasant arc. To record it differently would not be true.”

“To read the story in the press is to read a story that has never gone far enough.”

“Like almos every member of his family, my great-uncle eventually left Sri Lanka. There was nothing else to do.”

“Tamil has two hundred and forty-seven letters. When I was five years old, I could recite about half of them. I could speak Tamil and understand it. But as I got older, I forgot the words. I do not remember how this happened. Sometimes when I dream, I dream in Tamil. But when I wake up I never remember the words. It is like remembering a fever, or a blessing.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009



I have no words
to compete
with rain
or sunlight,

or the brush
of your hair
on my brow.
I am humbled

before beauty
and this chance
to lead a nation
out of delusion

with self and others;
but I remain unelected,
acknowledged only
by a few readers

of psychosis,
the notion that word
becomes flesh,
we accept by rote,

at Mass,
a divine mystery,
but ignore the man
on a soapbox

who reads his ya yahs
out at the Bowery
Poetry Café
on Sunday morning

at 9 am during
a marathon reading
to welcome the year,
to say, World,

you’ve still got poets
to kick around. Bring
on the go-go girls,
mountebanks, acrobats.

The show is everything.
Let’s say hurrah for all
that jazz. The inauguration
will be like no other.

Time moves the chariot
up Pennsylvania Avenue.
Get your dreams on board,
children well strapped, save

room for seedlings in pots,
germs, a fish tank; ‘though
this is no ark, here hope
will take root or expire.

Indran Amirthanayagam c) 2009