The Burnt

April 1971, Sri Lanka


Silent as the low-tide,

tarred smell of the burning flesh

of old tires, oozes

through wattle walls,

clings to our skin.


Knelt by the cinders,

Amma scars Garlic,

spreading the bruised cloves

on four corners of each room,

but the reek snakes

through the ceiling,

eating into our bones, like asbestos.


Athamma prays to her seven gods

lighting seven lamps with flickering wicks

like her lips,

Amma looks for the rosary

among her trinkets,

one more god won’t hurt.


Beyond the shuttered windows,

muffled Jeeps roam, duffle coats flutter,

goat hoofed Satyrs

knock on doors, calling out names.

Athamma hangs her talisman

on the doorknob.


In the dawn, the radio unchains

the curfew for two hours.

We queue up for dhal and white bread,

hobble across courtyards

sift through the empty sarongs.

Touching the missing,

we utter their names

like a mantra, a lament,

they cling to our skin.

Published in Catamaran © Ro Gunetilleke 2016