MISSING

Rider at my doorstep dark
Whose steed begets what frantic art
Who is this king whom shadows hide
Whose victims tumble on the tide
And sprawl upon the morning sands
With ‘traitor’ etched into their hands?
Who is this king whose sole decree
Steals fathers in some frenzied spree
Of lead, and lies, and broken glass
And then begins to blame his brass?
Who is this king whose sins I find
Leave behind a child? His sign:
“MISSING – Father – 2010”
(I thought the war was done by then?)

– S.S. Bartlett

I wrote this circa 2012 about Sri Lanka’s white van culture and journalist abductions/murders. The original has been edited, ironically to silence the voice of my seventeen-year-old self.

The Road That Once Was His

Smiling still, his face suggests no fear for freedom’s fire
Surely he’d doused it all; he’d tamed the people’s ire.
They had asked no questions; he’d hushed them with a crack-
A trail of lead in the head- two more in the back.
Had he not made them marvels? Won their bloody war?
Whose name decked the marvels? Whose decked the graveyard’s floor?
Then he’d played the chemist and into open wounds
Pressed hot words and saffron, and turned tigers into goons.
But the tear marks came, his face soon lost its hue
Underneath that tattered sheet, the wall that once was blue
Came the need for desperate change. You’ll see it in the cracks:
The hungry face for a freedom lost somewhere down the track.
Still he waits there smiling, lost in silent bliss.
And every man walks past him, on the road that once was his.

S.S. Bartlett

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Precepts

A roundabout of lies lies not far
From the blackened Muslim shop;
Mettha, Karuna, Muditha, Upeksha
And I have come to hate those words.
For when Aluthgama burned; Mettha.
It was love that stole their breath
When the hot mob’s iron teeth
From whose revolver I know not
Found their hearts and brains and bones
And sent them all to sleep-like death.
Karuna; when absurd rhetoric like a wall
Separated predator and victim
As cages keep lions away from men.
But compassion for whom I wonder?
Was it the cult whose temples burned asunder?
Muditha; happy in being drunk on melancholic draughts
That lie fermented in the hot earth;
Foaming at the mouth for twenty five years.
What brave baboons are these who
Having no fears of last night’s nuptial hour
With that striped beast
Once more binge at that bloody feast?
For my bruised kin who reacted not in the like;
Upeksha
Who having no homes of their own reacted in the least.
Shall I the true robed monks call
And from their meditations wake them?
What would they say of proclaimed manes
and a race above the race of men?
Rude I need not be.
The answer I fear I hear.
A roundabout of lies lies not far.
At 58′ to 83′
Are they not cars that pass
Of every man made chassis and class?
Mettha ,Karuna ,Muditha ,Upeksha.
Four new lives to reach that bloody brim.
There is more of the predator in the victim.

The poem, I must stress is not targeted towards a single race or religion as a whole, but extremism and ultranationalism. The poem was written following the Aluthgama incident and anti Muslim violence in Sri Lanka.

Crimson

What pile is this? Dumped –
Red rivers running down,
Against the wire slumped
Adorned with crimson crown.

Did you pray O quiet pile?
Did you say a prayer?
On the bloody battlefield
Angels do not dare.

I pity thee — you butchered youth.
You fought for naught, but lies
And now you gape at the truth,
Accompanied by flies.