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Sunday, 11 March 2012





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Surveying the political landscape through poetry

Richard de Zoysa's evocative and insightful poetry constitutes a defining trait of his personality as a gifted Shakespearean actor, poet, writer and journalist whose life was snatched off at the hands of the yet-unknown armed goons and dumped into the sea to be washed ashore in a couple of days. Essentially, his poetry is apolitical and lased with multiple layers of meanings which subject them to many readings. Quintessential characteristics of his poetry is that their sheer mastery in the craft and easy yet-idiomatic diction.

Richard de Zoysa

There are numerous instances where allusions to classical English literature were made. For him the bloody riots of 1989 was a proverbial biblical Apocalypse which has virtually re-written the political landscape of Sri Lanka, becoming a vital referral point in the protracted terrorism. Richard de Zoysa was one of the gifted and insightful poets of our time who inevitably paid the supreme price, as many great writers in the history of mankind, for his outspoken views which were not to the likings of the powers that were at the time.

In his poem Apocalypse Soon, Richard skilfully captures the eerie atmosphere which led to bloody riots of 1989 and how it profoundly affects the lives of the people at large. One of the significant features of the poem is that it is laden with metaphors upon metaphors unfolding of which would reveal graphic descriptions of the racial strife, described using Tarzie Vittachi's potent metaphor of 'The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse'. Richard skilfully epitomises the callous attitude and inaction on the part of the law enforcement authorities in the face of the 'racial strife' as 'and to the singing of the lead, khaki and gunmetal and iron tread, advance and take their vantage at the corner'.

The poem 'Animal Crackers' is also about the riots. The poet through a lesson to a child plays with the symbols associated with the parties to the conflict. The commotion out there is captured in an evocative line " Just a party down the lane, A bonfire, and some fireworks, and they're burning -No, not a tiger - just some silly cat". Who is burning is not 'a tiger' but 'a cat'. His skilful use of metaphors taken out of the day-to-day life is manifested in the poems such as 'Rites of Passage', '1984 - Elephant passes, GAJAGAVANNAMA and '.GOOD FRIDAY, 1975'

Richard de Zoysa
The child plays in the fire
scattering sparks
when suddenly the streets erupts
in waves of flaming hate
and splintered flying glass
shattering old amities and sharding bonds
forged (so we thought) proof
against heat.
After sharp showers the street boys play in mud
when suddenly a flood of enmity

Middeniya after the mayhem

(Dedicated to Richard de Zoysa)
It was in the immediate aftermath of the mayhem
I travelled through the scarcely populated, an impoverished village
With the scent of death and misery
Reminiscences of a shattered tribal village in the Dark Continent
Wattle and daub houses with a foundation of hope laid over many decades
Aging with the time and perhaps with the aspirations of the inmates of the huts
The wretched-air hung all around in the land of death
I listened to the woeful stories recounted by sole survivors
A Mother whose husband, two sons who were butchered to death
Dispatched into the other world
With wetted eyes, the Mother invited me to share her lunch
With mukunuvenna curry and coconut sambol
As she resembled me to her youngest son in childhood
Time was symbolised by
Burning tyre-pyres on golden paddy chaff
Contrasted with bright red tongues
Consuming the youthful bodies,
With aspiration for a better future
For the island nation
The inanimate yet animated red flames
Burnt the ideologies
With the youthful male and female bodies
You who had been a voice for the voiceless in the wilderness
Cruelly became a potent symbol of the time
A face to the faceless time
That will etch in blood-red
In our forgotten days
The days that we should never forget
And the perpetrators who brought about it
Should never be forgotten or pardoned …

Ranga Chandrarathne

Mukunuvenna- a kind of green leaves
Coconut Sambol –a mixture of scraped coconut, chiles, salt and lime
Middeniya- a village in the Southern province in Sri Lanka, where thousands of girls and boys were murdered and the Southern province was known as a land of death)

thicker than blood
and to the singing of the lead
khaki and gunmetal and iron tread
advance and take their vantage at the corner
Hot August night
with postulating stars burning like sores
Love is a sweat
and intercourse in shadows will beget
lust only for the frenzies of a rape
of sluttish cul-de-sacs and bottlenecks
The bottlenecks are broken; jagged ends
pierce the vitals of a nation.
Death words are spoken, old familiars
fall silent and retreat to roots.
The junction stations soon will fill
with seething hordes like ants before the rain
fear-breathing herds hard-ridden to the kill
and on the concrete platforms hob-nailed boots
drown out the thunder of the train.
Divide and rule. And pendulous to the North
hangs Jambudvipa stained with her own blood
bleeding heart red as ripe pomegranate
and bitter as the damson. All the fruits of hate
quivering she holds. Waiting to drop
into our gaping mouths.
Dark faces on the city pavements pale
Beneath the mysteries of holy ash.
What of the roots spread wide and deep
and far beyond the limestone of the North?
A wind blows through the halls of high commerce
the brilliant trembles at the flare of nostril
flames falter in the sacred lamps of brass
in dwellings on the arcades of Colombo
was lots of fun
we had our curfew parties.
was not so great
and now ...........
What happens now?
Will out of blackened streets and rubble ruins
caravans ride forth into the blazing
deserts of isolation, where the crack
of lonely snipers' rifles fills the air
and Brahmins hover, flickering in the haze
of hear-filled sky?
Has the Fifth Horesman come again to raise
his banner, and wreak havoc on the land?
Author's Note

Jambudvipa: One of the names the ancient Sinhalese gave India Brahmins: Brahmin kites - birds of prey commonly found in the coastal areas of Sri Lankla's Dry Zone (the term, in its original sense of the upper crust of India, is also used for senior Indian Civil Servants, in particular those who make foreign policy)

Fifth Horseman: see Tarzie Vittachi's 'Emergency '58'. 9 He suggests) The Fifth Horseman of the Apocaplypse is Racial Strife.

August 1981
NS 5 (1983)

(For Dimitri, when he is old enough to understand)
"Draw me a lion."
So I set my pen
to work. Produce a lazy, kindly beast .........
Colour it yellow
"Does it bite?"
but only when it's angry -
if you pull its tail
or say that it is just another cat ......."
But for the most part indolent, biddable
basking in the sun of ancient pride.
(Outside, the sunlight seems a trifle dulled
and there's a distant roaring, like a pride
of lions, cross at being awakened
from long, deep sleep).
"Draw me a tiger."
Vision of a beast
compounded of Jim Corbett yarns
and Blake
stalks through my mind, blazing Nature's warning,
black bars on gold.
You turn and draw the gun
on me, as if to show
that three-years-old understands force majeure
and as you pull the silly plastic trigger
all hell breaks loose: quite suddenly the sky
is full of smoke and orange stripes of flame.
And their jackals
run panting, rabid in the roaring's wake,
infecting all with madness as they pass
while My Lord
the Elephant sways in his shaded arbour,
wrinkles his ancient brows, and wonders -
If, did he venture out to quell this jungle-tide
of rising flame, he'd burn his tender feet.
"Put down that gun. If you do, and you're good,
I'll draw a picture of an elephant.
A curious beast that you must understand ........
Just a party down the lane
A bonfire, and some fireworks, and they're burning -
No, not a tiger - just some silly cat."
Author's note: The Lion is the heraldic emblem of the Sinhala or the Lion Race. The principal terrorist group in the north of Sri Lanka is known as the Tigers. The Elephant is the party symbol of the ruling United National party. Jim

Corbett has written a good deal about the Indian jungles, particularly about his pursuits of several man-eating tigers.

Colombo, 25 July, 1983
NCW 5 (1984)

Api yamu ko josey
Api yamu ko josey
Api yamu ko josey, yamu ko josey, chandey damanna .......
Dakuna kakula perata dama; shata pata gala
(Electioneering Song)
1985 - Tangalle
Going in search of democracy
Off to the election Down South
Land of milk and honey and guns
(They call it shotgun democracy)
40 miles away from democracy,
The enterprise falters - it's 2 a.m.
Drive's tired, the girls need sleep
Pull into the Rest House.
No room at the inn, but parked under a tree
The others sleep. We can't. Strange town. Strange smells.
Strange night sounds drive us out into the streets
In search of excitement - maybe in the South
Things happen near dawn that happen nowhere else.
Up and down narrow, winding, ill-lit streets
Past guesthouses - a sleeping petrol shed -
Back to the curving road that follows the coast
And the surf roaring faraway, nearer,
The searchlight comes screaming out of the dark
Blinds and freezes you, cat in the path of a truck.
Hands fly up
Then it hits you
Now you've done it
Now you're guilty
Now can't put them down till told to
And he can't lower the gun till told to
That faceless voice behind the beam
This is the moment of truth
Wherever there's a fence
Manned with guns
Stumble over the rough grass
Eager to show identity
Show we're on the right side
- We were just taking a stroll. We're going in search
Of democracy, going to see the by-election next door
- We didn't know - we're strangers here
- We're going
In search of democracy
(They call it shotgun democracy)
1984 - Elephant pass
Surely it was before this that I stood
Nerves shot to pieces, while the lieutenant
Who found me blundering sleepless though the camp
Brought me up sharp with a command to halt
Then told me gently the whole perimeter
(I was not a meter away from it) was mined
Mind, he said
So is the water below the barbed wire fence
The searchlight glared at the shallows, fiercely challenging
Anything to move
And I was thinking of a swim!

Well, he's dead now, and I'm alive
The war got him in the end
And he got a decoration
Defender of Democracy and the Nation
Still searching for democracy?
Mind those fences
NLR 6 (1988)
(February 1983 - Gangaramaya Perahera)
The elephants are out. Last night they marched
gorgeous through streets, caparisoned like kings,
electric radiance shattering the night,
laden with relics, talismans and things.
Dawn came. And they were tethered in their stalls
(the back garages of an Institute of Education)
where they swayed and chafed,
had time for thought. A notion then took root
in the huge cerebellum that uncoils
behind the great, domed skull. 'We are the lords
of open spaces. Great bucolic monarchs
of the land." The city's teeming hordes
hooted and jangled by beyond the walls
that prisoned and demanded patience from them.
With one accord they snapped their ankle chains
and lumbered forth towards the gates to storm them.
The city froze. Then birds sprang to the air
and men to trees. Vehicles clambered walls.
All order vanished as the blind grey surge
swept down the arcades and the trumpet calls

drowned klaxons, sirens, bells, horns, engines - swamped
the roaring of the bloodstream of Colombo.
Quite suddenly it ended. Having made
his point, the pachyderm returned to Jumbo
and plodded meekly home. The city now
knows behemoths, aroused, will rule by riot.
We bow the head and bend a loyal knee
to jungle law, in hope of peace and quiet.
NLR 2 (1984)
Author's Note

Gajaga Vannama - Elephant Dance (a traditional dance form) In February 1983, some elephants brought to Colombo for the Navam Perahera held by the Gangarama Temple broke free from the makewhift stalls where they were tethered and ran through the streets of Colombo. The elephant is the symbol of the UNP, the ruling party of Sri Lanka (from 1977 to 1994). UNP thugs are believed to have been heavily involved in organised anti-Tamil violence in July 1983)


We saw three leopard and a bear
Four herds of elephant, a pair
Of nesting paradise flycatchers
And hordes of teal in bigger batches
Than (they said) the time before .........
It has been quite a while you know
Since last I visited the park
The passing years have left their mark.
I cannot get much pleasure now
Identifying bull or cow
A quarter mile across the plain
Re-visiting, again, again
A dung-heap, hoping other species
Like Man, return to their own faeces -
For once you've seen Man on the kill
The spotted hunter fails to thrill.
Yes, man's a splendid predatory
Beast - with a fine hereditary
Chauvinistic sense of smell
And hunter's eye he claims can tell
The subtle shades of class or race
That doom the quarry to the chase
But Man, quite unlike beasts, in lots
Oh, man's adept at camouflage
Far better than the whole m‚nage
At moulting and at sloughing skin
Or just discreetly blending in
With concrete jungle - leafy glade
Creative use of light and shade
To hide forbidden private parts.
So let us exercise what arts
We have and join the savage herd
Cry out for blood and spread the word
Let nature do the worst it can
Best quarry for Mankind is Man
NLR 6 (1988)


Hot wind, humming through the trees
Stirring up the red dust, making sluggish ripples
On the surface of the stagnant pools
Peace, be still
We who would recapture the agony
Of the blood that flowed in the desert
And seek the answers to our questions
Bid you hold your peace.
The blood flows murmuring, congeals, turning black upon the purpling flesh.
Petrified, great trees halted by the march of time, blasted by the fierce lightning, the three crosses stand against the sun.
Three naked broken bodies, three little Jews set out in a row to dry, sag, taut arms bearing the bundles of screaming flesh and nerves.
The soldiers stand; men of steel and rawhide, forcing hoarse laughter from parched throats, pouring rancid wine into
churning bellies and eyeing the crowd uneasily.
Oh my people, what have I done to thee? Sullen-eyed, they wait.
You cannot blame us, they tell posterity. We are justice, dreadful, implacable, terrible in our righteousness.
Shout it down the generations! In accord with our consciences, we acted -
How to know, how to foresee the multiplication, the spread, more inexorable than themselves, of my following?
Oh my people, what will I do to thee?
In London and in Leipzig, Warsaw and Vienna,
Charred flesh, smoking ruins, stones, water, fire and
Adolf my boy, well done thou good and faithful servant ............
The flies are everywhere.
The collapse of bowels and the blood brings them, and they stay Their buzzing soporofic and soothing, the clammy touch of their feet failing to evoke a twitch from the splitting skin
And the baking afternoon grinds on.
Father, forgive them, for I will never.
Later, in the cool of the tomb, with the dirt and the sweat and the blood washed off, cooled with myrrh, wrapped in
linen and darkness there will be time to think.
Time to forgive or time to plan.
There will be weeping in Rama. Rachel mourning for her children.
Oh God, save these thy people.
Eli, Eli ............
Hear, O Israel.
It is finished
It is begun.
You have asked the questions
You have had your answers
Go forth into the world
And hum, hot wind, again.

This Other Eden (1991)


Fat white man
sitting with elbows on the batik cloth
(the table rotting underneath)
nibbling like dowager at potted shrimps
imperial dominance emphasised with fork
in languid hand.
White slug
burrowing the fertile Orient soil, and boring me
with needle eye behind steel rim,
tales of (erotic)
Boring me to the quick, piercing my soul!
A street away, my lover waits for me
the lamp burns low, tomorrow needs refilling.
O, Christ died not so hard on Calvary
for love of Man, nor went he forth so willing
as I do now.
The Romans on their thighs
wore sword and dagger, and crucified
spreadeagled nations, naked to the skies
and pierced with spears, but no not in
the side,
here, in the centre of my aching earth
I hold the pain, the rotting maggot seed
of the white carrion.
Clenched in my first (o, clenched to fight the fight)
the Mater Dolorosa -
Mother of Dollars.
At least tomorrow's
lamp will burn bright
NLR 1 (1983)

SIC TRANSIT .............

Suddenly to be an object
of desire -
at seventeen -
is not so nice
the vampires of Society
press your cheeks
with thin and raddled fingers and
call you Darling.
And you learn to smile.
Your teeth are white, they say,
and like a wolf's
(with meaning)
tall glasses filled with strange bewitching brews
thrust into your uncertain hands
by jeweled talons
(your hands are nice, they say,
so brown, so strong -
your fingers are so ........... long)
you learn to meet the gripping curious gaze
of warm eyes, beady eyes,
thick lash eyes with fine plucked brows,
big eyes, piggy eyes,
male eyes
may I take you home?
Channels II:2 (1991)


When first love dies, it is like a sea-bird
plunging from the wheeling heights of ecstasy into black waters.
There is a moment, as you rip through the heaving surface
when sensation is all
abandonment to the depths is complete
and there is no thought.
No words. Then down down,
chasing the winking gleam of a fish
until reality clasped firmly in your beak
you emerge .......... rocket-like
you burst into the day's hard glare
climb once more, but to a more conservative height.
(the day goes on, but the thrill is gone)
soon comes night.
And as you turn and head for home
there is a sad salt tang in the breeze
that draws at your consciousness, saying
No more the high-flung heights. No more
the light fantastic on the gusty winds.
Security is all
Channels II:2 (1991)
This love, my sweet, defies all comprehension
soft-eyed romantic pre-colonial you
eye me with ardour mixed with apprehension
hard-nosed product of Nineteen Eighty Two.
Whitehot projectiles of my passion fly
into the quiet reaches of your night
curve over time's horizon; pause; then plunge
earthwards from flaming parabolic height.
A mushroom cloud flowers in the dawning sky
fire licks the arching desert's breast and hips
tumescent glory of the coming age
ends years of waiting for Apocalypse
Burn olive branch and thaw out Nuclear Freeze
one Age of Ice enough: now time to hurtle
blazing, towards incandescent extinction
and substitute the Phoenix for the Turtle.
NLR 1 (1983)

OH BOY ...............

Oh boy that Honda!
flashing down the road
flesh blood bone
leather metal
rubber burning
thunder and lightning.
too quick for the eye's slow dilation
The rider, describing a dark circle in air
came to rest at any feet.
Like that, the body on concrete snapped in two
and the clean white edge of bone came bursting though
the way for an affair to have ended
a sickening snap
a vertebral break that cannot be mended.
as ours did.
Semen! injected direct as an S.O.S. measure
emergency heart massage
vibratory massage
all that mouth to mouth
mouth to anywhere
not to mention the regular drip of saline
(non-medically tears, or crying)
prevents that ECG
bottoming out in a straight line
(in lay termsdying)
NS 5 (1983)


I used to think
The warm vitality
Of you was worth a hundred turns on stage
Or screen -
but being
Familiar, it's easy to forget
The hundreds who have never yet
Basked in your glow
And so
When you shine tonight (as shining is
Essential to your diamond spirit) -
I'll get a little, cute, vicarious thrill.
And sure, I will
Play Stage Door Johnny sometime soon as well
For thee ............
Thou swell!
This Other Eden (1991)


One can actually see a patch of sky
One can see it from this balcony
(Only to call it 'balcony' would be to glorify it
Far beyond its function)

Not much - just a little patch
Of not-so-blue
Sky ...........
And even that not-so-blue is darkening, now,
darkening into grey, and your face is thundering, now,
Thundering, and inside me it has already started, the hard rain.
You talk of pain.
I have nothing to say. For me
There has not been a moment without it
These past five years or more
And so it only pours inside from what probably seems to be
A perfectly calm blue sky.
A bureaucrat
Goes ambling past
Favours us with a jaded glance.
He's seen too many of these things
These desperate couples clinging on to corners
Of each other .............
The affairs don't stand a chance.
They never last.
Still, it's turning into quite a grand storm
That last flash of lightning was far too close
For comfort.
Funny! you're saying that for me
These things must be the norm
But I ................
Funny! -
I can feel a raindrop growing
At the corner of my eye.
NLR 6 (1988)
The evening's clear
The sky, not blue - too late for that -
But rinsed pale tints just
Hint at what they might be
None asserts itself.
Don't assert anything either,
Breeze whipping past us as we stand here,
Will not get caught up in it.
Look at the crows!
How they get blown here and there by the wind
It won't allow them to settle anywhere
How they enjoy themselves!
Squawking and flapping madly as if
They wanted to stay in one place ............
Me, I'm a bit of a fraud myself, love
(You'll say you know)
Sometimes I comfort myself trying to believe that you
Would like it so.
Still, it's a lovely evening,
We are actually talking about the weather
Who would believe the end could be so easy?
Who would guess, seeing us together,
There was ever more to it
Than clear skies?
NLR 6 (1988)


I am the eye of the camera
can only reflect, never reject,
never deflect
I am the eye
of the camera
silent recorder of life
and death
eye that can only reflect
never conjure up images
probe the reality
never reject
i am the eye
of the camera
i reflect nothing
but truth
the external reality
cannot deflect
the mind of the viewer
from picture to passion
i let them all fashion
their truths through my magic
i cannot reject
the external reality
that passes for truth
and what is rejected
by natural selection
has nothing to do with me
when i am impotent
robbed of my power
my eyes in the dark at the moment of crisis
see nothing but well favoured men of the hour
I am the storm's eye
ceaselessly turning
around me the burning the death the destruction
the cliches that govern the world of the words
of the prophets and preachers, and maybe the saviours
are lost to my peering
blind eye in the dark
This Other Eden (1991)


I'd like to be a poetess
and sit aloof in Sapphic state
load chicken livers on a plate
declare the world's a total mess -
Preside, beringed and Kaftan clad
at coffee mornings, soirees, teas
expound the need for nuclear freeze
pop ice in drink, shake head, look sad
About the teeming underfed
then launch into impassioned reading -
sonnet on the need for feeding
them, while munching garlic bread.
O, all you splendid Amazons
come, let me join your sacred band!
Unwrinkled yet of throat and hand
and mind, I'd like to wear the blazons
Of a lady poet too!
Perhaps the Daily News would then
accept the ravings of my pen.
I yearn to write off me and you
And of the wondrous middle class
of gracious windows barred to life
that never shook to sounds of strife -
excuse me while I fill my glass ..............
NLR 1 (1983)


On broken butterfly wing, your crippled mind
fluttered into my schoolroom. Failed. And died.
I couldn't do a thing to stir its organs
of poor maimed sense to life again.
Only sensation. Reflex twitch
of feelers. And for me sentiment.
Occasional small rapture at your velvet
softness and smoothness. Soon the ants of time
carry you away from chalk and Chaucer
into oblivion.
Farewell, lovely.
The heavy footed State, which made a mess
of your fragility, called this progress,
should pin you down on cardboard behind glass
specimen of the educated class.

NLR 1 (1983)



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