Spirited Away

After the third dram, he lifts

the shot glass to the gas lamp,

looking for that last

drop of coconut arrack,

the slurred words come looking for me.


Marconi shortwave radio coughs

to the crackle of coconut-shell firepot,

grandpa’s lap feels like our satin couch,

I sink in.


Grandpa shuttles the radio dial,

I hold the hairpin antenna,

wiggle it just a hair this way or that way,

and we are off,

across the world

in Greenwich meantime,

to a world that meant nothing but was everything.


Grandpa’s thumb nimble on the dial,

first stop Luknow

then to Moscow,

Swan Lake he says,

sways his chin like a metronome.


We hear ten languages in one night,

music and gibberish

like shadow puppets,

we make up names for the song,

the tune that finds us, 

we make it all our own.


It’s 1956,

fires burn from Jaffna to Colombo.


Mani’s bakery charred,

no more honey-buns

with sprinkled sugar caps.

Mani went away with the Red Cross,

fifteen years bundled in a gunnysack.


Grandpa shuts the window

downs the third dram,

kindles the firepot,

sinks into the chair, all arms and legs.


I bend the hairpin to the North

we run away again.

 Published in Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poems, 2010

ro7@mac.com © Ro Gunetilleke 2016