On a stroll — of the many strolls —
Around the lake one day
— At eighteen or so — ten years ago,
Walking in a many-frilled uniform, towards me, I see
With leather satchel, plaited hair, annoyed stare:
And here we come — towards each other —
And you stop a meditated yard or two
From where I — to greet you a ‘hi’ — pause; stop.
‘Hi’. ‘Hi’. And with these two heavy, undecided hi’s caught
Midway between two half stammering eyes,
I ask you as to whether I can walk you half the way: home.
You said no and you added that you
Know the way alright, too well. That there are people
All around you and that it was good time that you had go.
Walked down the walkway, without a glance to look back
And for the next ten years I just met you one time more.
They have redone the walkway, — elevated it a bit —
Laid bricks, done the edges, tarred the road
And dredged the lake. Have set the boundaries straight,
With a water sprout fussing in the middle. I look at me
As I walk the margins making what poetry you make.
Where you might be today, is something you would have known,
Refusing me to walk you, refusing to stay.
Well, here I am humming, watching the torsos that I pass,
Dodging purposeful paupers with many a mournful alas.
I just wanted to walk with you, that’s all. Like people
Do when they meet.
A hundred yards from the temple
Where the tooth is now a business deal,
Just across the Lake, across the road,
By the side entrance of HNB,
The narrowest of the least extensive passages,
With “No Parking” signs, horns blaring free —
Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe Mawatha:
At the very foot,
Facing the thronged threewheel shed,
A name board in government cement,
The last king of the imperial Sinhala, dead.
By him, a defunct colour light,
Long accustomed to not being in use:
The homage-demander of yore now has not much to lose.
Of this formation I tell
A group to whom Ozymandias I read:
The poem of the long dead terror-striking monarch
Written by Percy B Shelley, dead. They listen to my story
In anecdote form. But, I wonder — wonder I seriously do:
If in that name board is preserved, in some metaphysic true,
The spirit of that Rajasinghe — condemned by the
Power hungry nobility of the early 19th century
To see the road to which they have given his name
Thoroughly discontented, would he be?
Even as Shelley wrote he was all yet the king
(And in a sense Shelley’s contemporary); would he have
Laughed at Shelley had to his chamber Shelley had come
And on Ozymandias given a rough commentary?
Surely, Rajasinghe would have known what one day was to come?
By the roadside, now, in a different century,
Another imperial palace — Kandy’s proud
City Center Mall — has come. Its side entrances as well
As the passages down its back open into the
Mawatha of the monarch, then, given the sack.
On which palace, then, would R. Singhe — in a new age — insist?
Triumph dummies all geared up in the Third Floor
By Odel and other such odes would he resist?
(In lieu of William Blake’s 255th — ahem — Birth Anniversary)
I wander by the once charter lake
Where once the charter stink did blow
And wonder in the name of William Blake
As to where the hell that smell did go.
In every cry of street salesmen,
Exiles placed on the pavement side,
They dash out wares and goods, but then
They should have made the pavement wide.
Taxi drivers through traffic shove and horn
Sweet music on fragile human ear.
Narrow streets, some fucker to another fucker born
Change from a lower to the ultimate gear.
But most after eight, at night you may list
To the murmur of an abandoned town asleep.
With ambitious Policemen, half drowned in mist,
A quick buck to pocket the grim shadows keep.
Those who once were are now all dispersed:
Old Alliance is shifted, after closed –
With natural death an inevitability,
With our feelings the armour, the only hold
Against fried chicken laid thick and thinly boned.
A photograph, a memory –
Do you have any, some something of where the
Old House where the Old Alliance used to be?
That once gallant, spacious, homely sentiment
Now demolished, resurrected as fucking KFC.
The thickly dense, once flower-filled front yard,
Slight ascending pathway to the broad front steps.
Study rooms, idle hours, laid back students, their
Mothers – to protect virgin souls from others – seated on the bench.
From alphabet, hasty bon jours to French kissing: all French.
A graphic memory – a photo print, I say,
The salles reconciled under great stalwart names.
Toilets, Café running, Directeur’s Room by the library
Opening into students’ seatings by the stairway to the landing upper.
In between classes Monsieur W. sliding down for a cuppa.
On Facebook, the unknowing motherfucker, they say:
“KFC now come to Peradeniya Road – call in you mates,yay!”
I say: you coarse consumerist sentimentless pig, this is you
Who roll over what in memories on memories are blessed
To put up your shop in a design already guessed.
“Ribbons of blue” he — who knew no
Boney M song –, then, said, “reminds
Me of you”; instead of doing something
— Anything — other than the annoyed flick,
She propelled, took to heel; and hurried through
As if, to him, she’d been any other chick.
Where he stood, as he strained his eyes
Where she cannon-like strut, with the twitch of
A faint smile the imaginary smoke he inhaled-exhaled, but
As I walked upto him, pat him on his back
He said, “Did you see that, just now?
Why — why — must I be a teenager in love?”. Why, indeed.
Am I to tell him, then, to his pearl-like eyes,
That, in time — immemorial time — he is to be
The most sought after of all decent guys?
“Let’s have some tea”. To all school boy
Wrenching woes of lust, tea strained off
The cheapest brand of tea-leaf dust, served in stained
Saucer-less arrangement, is the ready reliever;
You say: “Seriously, I seriously can’t believe her”.
Tea! Things like the curative quality
In that beverage for the wounded soul that
bides on time wouldn’t change. That day,
You were smiling in a mixed complex of hurt and amusement.
One who walks out sees us, throwing words across the fumes of tea.
And then I do not see your face,
Your eyes, as in the dark you are undecided
I know. “Well, then” and then:
“Good night – I got to go”. I hear the door open
And I watch as you move out:
Left leg, bag, right leg – jeans blue
In the reflecting moon’s rhythm,
So – this is you. Peeps back through the window
“Drive safe, don’t go” too fast; but, an empty road
Without vehicles wouldn’t know.
Headlights flash on and – with its inconclusive edges –
A death notice with a face from the lamp post watches
With time and eternity either side of its day
A pothole, a tyre resists; give way.
I am thankful; should I regret that you said good night?
Memory, sometimes, makes you forget,
Makes days feasible; makes courage come easy.
Inaction, like Chekhov, like on a night too warm
For restless thoughts and hearts, is a
Kiss for another day.
Tall buildings which, some day, will fall
Give me the confidence of where I stand, but still,
When the confectioner of Kandy’s shopping mall
Pretends not to see me, like a cruel pill,
I feel small; I see my reflection on the wall
As they sit, their consumable legs,
Smooth delicate foot rocking the shoe by its strap,
Distanced by the cubicle’s glass. As they stare into a desktop,
The office midriffs and stretch marks stretch,
Lost souls float in search of place. I stand and watch it from my edge.
You’re a woman, some man’s invested desire
And you can be had; though you’re not for hire.
Pink blouse, plain face, faded bag and — higher —
A sober temperament that never catch fire.
God, this stanza has regular end-rhyme… till now.
So, the KCC — Kandy City Center, the local Majestic City
Is the place to be. Cool gangs hang by escalator terminals;
Sit under escalators; whisper by escalator sides;
Watch with blatant young eyes the eyes of gals by escalators.
There are more escalators than things, by escalators, you can do.
Bring in here to KCC your village mentality for a talk
Or press the pussy of your i-pod as you take it on a walk.
O’ Majestic City come to Kandy 20 years all too late,
Empty showrooms in thin glass, transparent as fate, stare at you
As you pass; and with your stare consummates.
I walk through the metal detector and when it
Makes the curious sound; am I to walk on,
Or am I to turn around? What if I am made of metal?
What if all I want is a detonater? The brown suited jack
And the blue osareed girl are lost in a talk that the rest never will know.
For unfamiliar audiences:
KCC (Kandy City Center) is a massive shopping mall — along the lines of Majestic City, Colombo 4 (the first [?] of its kind to be opened in SL 20 years ago) opened in the heart of Kandy, 2 years ago.