Spoken word by Kirsty

The following spoken-word poem by Kirsty Anantharajah was read out at Palmera’s “Our Mothers’ Eyes” event.

One woman weary from Vishwamadu winds the corners of her sari in her fingers

in a white walled building now ashen she takes the stand, as

One hundred pair of eyes issue an old threat that lingers

her fingers run over the knots in her sari- one for each time she spoke-

and in this cloak of bumps she feels her country grow deaf.

Better it not grow silent too….

Two sandals take their first steps from the camp,

Or the farm- as it was named

like they were animals to be tamed, herded, transferred from the rights of humanity

while victors conferred.

When the gates were opened, she locked the memory of that place deep within.

They say we’re going home, but

why are we sent to the jungle when we live by the sea,

why will the army stalk our fields, when they say we are free?

Why does blood still stain the hems of our saris as we walk through the mud?

When, when will life begin to bud?

but through the questions her feet keeps a steady thud.

In a patch of cleared jungle stands an English sign

that declares the line ‘rehabilitation village.’

Three hung saris dance here in the breeze,

behind them Amma seizes her

daughters unruly black hair

and as they sit there, she wishes the cotton were walls.

Four sets of fishing boats set off to Irainativu

the village’s Ammammas leaning right over the bows,

their bodies like kites matching the rhythm of the seas

Ammamma’s boats fly past the appas who are wet only to the knees.

white hairs loose around their temples defy the easterly winds and

fly west, the island pulling them


After Five hundred days of sit-ins deafness worsens as the Office of the Missing Persons

‘Brave’ foreign papers called the mothers of the disappeared- don’t they

know there was nothing left to be feared?

Aunty lunch packet vernam ah? asks someone else’s son.

But the woman too was growing deaf

her ears now here for the voice that will never come

Six sticks, are planted into the red clay of Vavuniya,

three by three, six meters apart, on a field cleared of trees.

Two teams of teenagers appear

grass tickling at their ashy knees.

The captains meet in the middle, she shouldered a cricket bat,

him a rifle, Girls cant play here, he spat-

but Nisha turns and gestured at Rajini who bowls her a fast one

casually smashed for six- as the boys eyes followed it straight into sun

Seven new cows are inspected by the village,

why give them something else to pillage

asks Bahavana leaning on the palmera.

But She sees her niece growing fat on the cream

dreaming of a future over which they had control.

Squatting she picks up a stick- Vanga- we will start a patrol

Eight cracks sound as the cleaver comes down on the crab

As a child she used to hate kool

but now as the community drag their stools around her simmering chati

she is thankful for the powerful aroma, and her power,

with the squeeze of a sour lime, to freeze that moment in time

Nine weeks of drought show in the nine dry-riverbeds

spreading on Inimai’s forehead.

Hands sifting the parched earth and dead roots

as if it were pittu.

the pitter patter of little feet creeps up behind

Kutti makes a seat of the red clay

and suddenly the rains flood into Inimai’s gulley.

Not yet ten, we were waylaid this Easter.

Ravana, demon king, reminded us he will never sleep

that will keep playing with Lanka. He thinks it his domain

His age-old game is to draw lines across our island

to deal it’s people like card into piles and

watch them burn, suit by suit

My Ammama used to light candles in Kochichade

which Ravanna reduced to rubble that Sunday

And by the light of the candle she looks at Him

The people of Lanka are not game pieces

she says, as she released the lid of tin she holds

We are like this Sri Lankan spice power, this roasted thool

we are cinnamon, we are cloves, we are pepper. Try pick

us apart, destroy what holds us together

and she showed him, that rich brown mixture

ground by Lanka’s women since the dawn of time.

Ammamma blows out her candle in the rubble of Kochikade

her breath sending with it blinding spices into the demon king’s


Ten years. A decade. How did we get here?

we sailed on ammama’s boat in the shade of Ammma’s sari

we learned courage from by truth shouted from vishuvamadu

we grew fat on the maize milk, thool and kool- made by ammas

who saved every penny and never let us know of patrols and drought

we leaned on the mothers demanding answers to questions we were to afraid to ask

we danced to the crack of cricket bats

Ten years. A decade. How did we get here?

The same way we always do, in the arms of our mothers.