Tonto was a Tamil

“ The guns have fallen silent in Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war, but the deep wounds of ethnic animosity have not even begun to heal. An estimated 300,000 Tamil civilians remain essentially prisoners in internment camps…” New York Times, July 21, 2009.


His dark skin glistened like a bottle bottom—

button eyes cindered knee-high— beside

my white horse. We galloped away

chasing the renegades, shooting from our hips.


We were all shades of brown then.


We prayed to the Hindu Gods

in the Bellanvila Buddhist temple.

Tonto carried the offering—

fruits and incense flowered

over his head in a rattan basket.

We smashed coconuts, dotted

our temples with kumkum—

sat all-night on paduru mats

enfolded in the pirith chant

tethered to a holy string.


We didn’t know then—

one-day they would come

carrying voting lists, sticks and stones

fire bottled in their fists—

looking for the others among us.



In the distance, the roofs burned

like camphor

but with no scent.


I lost track of what happened

to my dark mask, white cape

those ivory handled pistols.

I thought I’d saved the world.

Published in Malpaise Review © Ro Gunetilleke 2016