Thursday, April 5, 2012

8 poems Selected and translated by M A Nuhman

Experiencing Ethnic Conflict, War and Terror through

Contemporary Sri Lankan Tamil Poetry

8 poems

Selected and translated
M A Nuhman

They and You

M A Nuhman

They came by jeep,
Knocked at your door
and dragged you off
for investigation

Your mother cried,
screamed and pleaded

When she went to their camp
and asked for you
They denied it
they hadn’t taken you

Your flesh torn,
bones crushed and
your blood mixed with the soil

Now it is your turn

You came from the forest
by foot
You knocked at my door
and dragged me away for

My mother cried,
screamed and pleaded

When she came to your camp
and asked for me
You denied it
you hadn’t taken me

My flesh torn,
bones crushed
my blood too
mixed with the soil

A Refugee Poet Talking to the Moon


Moon, I won’t write
poems today

In this temporary house
I have no doors of my own,
No plant to pluck and smell
its flowers by right

You too an alien moon to me
Your light that falls on my courtyard
and your light on this alien courtyard
are not the same but trouble me

I am a refugee these past three days
and a victor salvaging this life
and the poems that spring from it

Those who have seen my house tell me that
its nose has broken
The flower plants I loved
have gone into the bull’s stomach
and become dung

Here I do not have my own sky
The air I breathe too seems to
belong to others

Moon, how can I write poems
when I have lost nine hundred thousand stars,
you and the sky,
Lost my butterfly and
the lizard that lives under my bed?

Cover your face with a cloud
If a poet sighs
even the cold breeze
will get charred

Crying with the Pen of My Own Race


Fence the moon
Divide the sun and share it
Count the stars
Apportion them according to ethnic ratio
We are the people of the civilized age.

Measure the sea and take it
Cut the sky into pieces
If you get the chance
Abduct the air or
Destroy the brotherly race with tempests
One among us may land on Jupiter

Label ethnically even the ants
Teach caste and religion to the trees
Let the dove laugh at the other race
Let the sounds of lizard, snail, frog and insect
reflect hatred
Come, butterfly,
this is the flower of your race, enjoy it!

The pity of it
the way mankind is divided
When I write this poem
the pen refuses to write and tells me
“I do not belong to your race”
O… it belongs to a different race.

A Letter to My Father

M Jabir

                        I remember the Thursday
                        that we lost you

my heart boils like a cooking pot
as I think of your smile and your hard work

What did they do to you?
Did they shoot at you?
Did they hack and cut your body into parts?
Did they smash your head with a rod,
pierce your body with a crow-bar?
and did they rejoice and dance?

Father, the fish curry
made of your catch
still gives out its aroma in our pan

Mother and the younger brothers
cry often asking about you

Convey the greetings of our village to
Ajward, Kaleel, Abusaly, Mohamed Hussain
and the others who came with you
Convey our salaam to brother Mubarak
Tell him his children are well
Tell him also the Kufa mosque
weeps remembering him
Tell all of them the village is in darkness
because their wives observe idda

now you are on the swings of Heaven
Come often in my dreams, father.

(This is supposed to be a first poem by a young boy whose father and         neighbors were murdered by the LTTE in Batticaloa District in 2002    during the Peace Accord) 



Our nights are uncertain
let us look at each other
before we go to bed
This may be our last
meaningful moment

Firmly press your lips
on the cheeks of our children
Then, let us think about
our relatives for a moment

Lastly, let us
wipe our own tears

If we are not burnt
this night
May our fingers feel
at dawn
the touch of the tea leaves
that bear the pearls of dew















As the birds sang
and the sun fell into the sea
her death took place
at the open space of white sand
No one knew about it

When she was born a female child
she wouldn’t have thought of such an end
Her mother neither

First their look pierced her like a thorn
then their terrible hands seized her arms

No sound arose
She fell in a faint
They raped her senseless body
It happened
at the open space of white sand
She was buried
at the edge of the salty cremation ground

When she was born
would she have thought of such an end?

(This poem refers a widely reported incident of rape and murder of               a school-going girl, Krishanty, at a sentry point in Jaffna in 1996)


Shanmukam Sivalingam

An earthworm like a dry leaf
was crawling at the edge of the steps
I, being a man, looked at it with pity
for a moment and left
Suddenly I heard a noise and
turned to look at it.

The earthworm was standing on its tail
opening a mouth full of sharp teeth
As I thought of its tongue
flames came out of it
Does the earthworm have a tongue? ...teeth?
As I pondered, it dawned on me that
the earthworm had been transformed.

But I wasn’t afraid
I bent to pick up a rod
As I raised it up
I saw a gun in the earthworm’s hand
No, a gun in the snake’s hand
No, a gun in the soldier’s hand

I bent and slithered like a snake
Became an earthworm like a dry leaf
Crawling at the edge of the steps.

A Child Soldier


I was caught
by the dogs of war
on my way to school
in the morning

They threw my books away
broke my pen
stamped on my brush
and shaved my head

They gave me a gun in my hand
and said go! go!
serve the nation,
fight the battle

I obeyed
If not
I would be a corpse

I feel it is my fate
to wallow in the dust
surrounded by
dried blood,
pity and sympathy
that remain at least with a few

Every thing is cruel

at an undefined
war front
I carry
A double barreled gun

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