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.

Tempus Fugit

Seven O’ clock — twenty peals
From the belfry, brown and old.
Darting past on scattered heels
We would not heed those words of gold:

Tempus fugit irreparabile

 Eight O’ clock – with shuffling shoes
Through the Chapel’s crimson aisles
Sportsmen stretch and others snooze
While Father Lloyd sees all and smiles.

Tempus fugit irreparabile

Nine O’ clock — “Miss, may we eat?”
Kenny asks and Miss declines,
“Now it’s time for square rule sheets”
(And Cos and Tan and their friend Sine.)

Tempus fugit irreparabile

Ten O’ clock — the brave skip class.
Mister Maurice walks his rounds.
“I say Silva! You jackass!
Get to class you bloody clown!”

Tempus fugit irreparabile

‘leven O’ clock — Interval.
Cricket bat and ball and pitch
Chinese rolls, and milk packets
— We were poor but we were rich.

Tempus fugit irreparabile

 Twelve O’ clock – all silent now.
Prefects peek through each class door
“Malli konde kapapan!
I’ll give you quad, you rowdy boar!”

Tempus fugit irreparabile

One O’clock – with eager ears,
Half-packed bags that bell we wait.
For what are but a schoolboy’s fears
Past that creaking Chapel gate?

Tempus fugit irreparabile

It is two now – we are old
And now we heed those words of gold:

Tempus fugit irreparabile


I must have been in College Forms B when I discovered these words by Virgil engraved into the college belfry (it always rang twenty times – never more). Now, a few years out of school its words sting true. The quote, which means ‘time flies irretrievably’ is a grave reminder of all the changing scenes of life. The quote sometimes appears as “…fugit irreparabile tempus” in other sources.


Certain phrases require an explanation for the non-Sri Lankan and non-Thomian reader.

– Malli Konde Kapapan – A colloquial way of saying ‘cut your hair’. Being a boarding school long hair and stubble were frowned upon.
– I’ll give you quad – ‘Quad’ was a popular form of disciplining rowdy boys in STC. It involved making students run around the quadrangle. Don’t gasp. It wasn’t all that bad. Toughen up, buttercup.
– Interval – Recess.

Ps. I have mentioned the name of an actual classmate of mine. I hope you don’t object (chill wenne machan) this was done with absolute fondness haha. All names including that of everyone’s favourite headmaster were mentioned in fond memory.

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All The White Man’s Children

What is the white man’s burden?
Can I find it in my fields?
Does he stir it with his bourbon?
Is it the rod he wields?

And all the white man’s children,
These heirs to his estate
Lithe in laps of luxury
Unbridled by its weight.

Ever suckling at the bosom
Of privilege and power
The world is their inheritance,
Theirs is the chosen hour.

And we who toil beneath them
Dealt the brown man’s hand
Must ever labour thrice as hard if
As equals we dare stand.

–  S.S. Bartlett

A controversial topic, yes. My main point here is not colonialism, but the inequality that is still ripe and approaching putrescence in the modern age. As a student fortunate enough to study in in Europe I have encountered a modicum of contemporaries who are oblivious to the privilege they have inherited. Their lives are sans the sort of prejudice we from the “non-Western World” must endure. Upon my return home I have come to realise that had a student from my home country been afforded the same opportunities many of my European friends had, they would have reaped its fruit threefold.

Note. I would have gladly avoided colour had I not been so keen to allude to Rudyard Kipling.

Whose Wounds Are These?

Whose wounds are these that I pressed down?
Whose temple bears this thorny crown?
Whose tears fall forth and stir this flood
Of sweat and sin, and my Lord’s blood?

Whose voice was that which trembling cried,
“Behold before me Death has died.”
Which then with final breath began
The restoration of all man?

Who was, who is – and is to be,
Whose name is writ in history;
The King, The Lion, Lord, and Lamb
The one who whispers, “Child, I am.”

– S.S. Bartlett

Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy kingdom come,” the old man wept
As beneath the clouds he slept
Upon those streets of stone and steel
Where men before their wealth did kneel

“Thy kingdom come,” the lady sighed
Walking past the boys who cried
And raised their hands to shout a word
Which from her youthful days she’d heard.

“Thy kingdom come,” the mother shook
— Her son filed by without a look
To the rattle of some marching band
Spurring him to far-flung lands.

“Thy kingdom come,” the soldier prayed
As the turret spat and sprayed
And scores of lead soared overhead
To count his friends among the dead

“Thy kingdom come,” the surgeon heaved
Before the iron tool could cleave
The struggling boy upon the bed
All swathed in white and rushing red.

“Thy kingdom come,” the small one said,
Scrambling through those fields of dead
Where murderous men had only sown
Those crimson streams of ill renown

Hear us God, thy kingdom come,
Establish yours — Ours overrun.
Thy kingdom come, ours is lost —
And for what prize and at what cost?

S.S. Bartlett


Note : For many youth in my country  violence, wickedness and war (especially war) have had some sort of a presence and impact in our lives. While war has not affected me directly  I have seen its aftereffects ; beggars, blind men, amputees and orphans. This has no disturbed me, but allowed me to acknowledge the violence men have sown themselves and the discord with which we have overridden our lives. It is for this reason that I believe God’s divinity should transcend our ways and be applied in our lives

 

Cast Your Net And Drag Me Nearer

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Cast your net and drag me nearer
Through the ocean’s trying tide,
Take this broken boat and steer her
To the course you’d have me bide.

I am stubborn, blind and beaten,
These rocks have torn my hull and keel
Take these oars my pride has eaten
And teach me Lord to weep and kneel.

Sweep my solemn breath and break it
Drown me in unending light
So should the way before grow graver,
I may dare this ocean’s might.

When the tempest turns towards me,
When the lightning tastes the tide
Hold me, God and split the waters
My admiral, and my guide

With you O God to be my captain
With you to seize this thrashing sea
What ocean’s tempest dare defy us?
Who dare be my enemy?

S.S. Bartlett
Image Source : Getty Images

I Would Not

NOT A PERSONAL POEM. READ NOTE BELOW.


Slit my veins in sleep one night,
I would pass in peace.
That I endure these darkening tides
Is pain that will not cease.
Many eyes have seen me,
But their sight averts mine own
And upon this wretched rock,
This dirt which I call home
They flog me and inflict me
Their words like whips and thorns
So please do slit my veins this night,
I would not see the morn.

Drown me in that lake one day,
I would gargle green
And watch her slowly slip away,
And leave this world unseen.
I have watched in silence
This thing they say is love
And whimpered at the God who made it
For unanswered prayers above.
Whose hands then made me monstrous?
Whose words then slurred my speech?
So drown me in that lake this day
The night is grave and bleak.

Throw me off a cliff one morn
I would meet the stones
Which moan amid the rolling waves
And have them break my bones.
What worldly works could hurt me?
What ill fate twist the heart?
This dead cold space has had its place
For many years now past.
Wailing winter whipped me
And spring still lingers grey
So throw me off that cliff this morn
I would not see the day.

S.S. Bartlett

Note : I must stress that this poem was not written for me, but for people (friends mostly) whom I know deal with bouts of depression and self destruction. I am grateful many took the time to contact me once this poem was published, but it was an exercise and a tribute to my friends.

The Devil, She Said. – S.S. Bartlett

The dull ember of an Autumn’s evening finally gave way to the dark. The wind carried a chill in its whisper but the horsemen continued anyway, their steeds clapping heavy rhythms onto the cobblestone path.

“How much further?” The heftier one asked.

“Not much.” Replied the other. “Just ahead of those trees. That’s where she wanted us to meet her.”

“You know.” Said the man, whipping his burly arms upon the reins. “I do not trust her. There’s somethin about her.”

“Oh, come off it Blon. You’ve been at her throat since the day we met. If she’s got what we asked for, we pay her and head back to Hawbyrne. The Lord will be happy to hear that bastard is dead and we get paid. Simple as that.”

“Fine.” Blon grumbled. “But I’m keepin my sword at the ready. Just in case, Hawker.”

“Aye, aye. Do whadever you want.”

The trees were just ahead. They stood like eager children playing a pretend battle. Hawker remembered when he had wanted to be a soldier, plundering towns and winning sighing women. Now he hated it. Towns had nothing to plunder these days and the women hated him anyway. It was probably because of the warts. Hell. It was the warts.

The woman was there, just ahead. Her grey robes snapped in the wind. Even in the light of the torch she held Hawker could scarce see her face. Guess the men called her the Ghost for a reason. Blon jumped off his horse almost eagerly. He kept a hand on his sword. The idiot had really meant it. Hawker would talk to the oaf later.

“Do you have it?” Hawker dismounted. His feet crunched against the leaves. Heavens, he hated that sound.

The woman nodded. She unhooked a bag from her waist and tossed it to Blon who almost dropped the damn thing. He peered inside. Hawker could just make out the face of Derin Pillmar staring blankly back at Blon. The oaf blinked stupidly at the dead man’s face.

“Head’s there, Hawker.” He said finally.

“The amulet?” Hawker asked, turning back to the Ghost. She removed it from her neck. It was a beautiful thing, emeralds set in gold, encircling a single sapphire. Hawker’s master would have paid heavily for Derin Pillmar’s amulet, but he found killing his own brother and simply stealing the thing to be much cheaper.

“The gold.” The Ghost said. Her voice sent a shudder down the spine. Hawker complied anyway and removed a purse, tied messily to his clothes. He opened it, revealing the glow within. The woman would have to be happy with it. She could not make the same money elsewhere. If she sold the amulet, her people would find her. She was a ghost, aye, but even ghosts needed to hide from their own dark pasts at times. Hawker watched her waiting for affirmation of some sort, but then she slipped the amulet back onto her neck.

“It is not the amount promised.” She said calmly.

Hawker almost choked. “Surely –”he began to protest, but the woman cut him off.

“Tell your master it is not what was promised.” She began to walk away.

“Now listen here, little thin’.” Blon said grabbing her by the shoulder. It was the last he said.

Hawker blinked. How had he missed it? Out of nowhere a blade lay wrenched in Blon’s gut. The big man groaned before he slipped on the fallen leaves with a solid crunch. He did not stir. The man had been alive seconds ago. The Ghost turned to him. He could scarce see the woman’s face, but she was displeased. Hawker fumbled for his blade, cursing as he did. God, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. His fingers failed him. The Ghost grabbed him by the throat. He gasped for another breath of air. How was the damned woman so strong?

He felt the trickle of piss down his pants.

“I will not kill you.” She said through gritted teeth before finally letting him go. Hawker fell into the dry leaves, grasping at his neck.

The woman turned away from him walking into the darkness.

“Tell your master I have a buyer for the amulet.”

“Who?” Hawker managed to choke.

“The devil.” She said. “The devil.”

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This is my first attempt at a short story, ever. I have no idea what drove me to write it, but I did it anyway. Criticism is most welcome. 

 

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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On The Highway To Hell

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With Sri Lanka’s presidential elections less than two days away social media has erupted into a quite the mess. Supporters of candidate Maithripala Sirisena demand law, order, equality, and justice whereas supporters of the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, claim that the current government offers security, stability and the promise of a brighter future. It is no secret that the Rajapaksa government has built roads, highways, theatres and even *ahem* an airport at the expense of loans at exponential interest rates by the Chinese, they’ve missed out the most important, and crucial area of development; society.

I happened to witness the emasculation of the police force as they sat quietly in their trucks in Bellanwila when the radical Buddhist group The Bodu Bala Sena pelted a Muslim franchise with stones bellowing the derogatory racial term ‘thambiya’. Bricks, bridges and other fancy tangible trinkets are not necessary for the reconciliation process in a postwar society like ours. While highways, roads, and airports are forms of development they are only tangible forms of development Rajapaksa can lay claim to. They have become symbols to divert public attention from the core issues of society. Postwar sentiments are approaching putrescence and have now begun to exacerbate other societal issues.  The crack of cannons has long since settled and the LTTE have withered and perished -which is a mighty good thing, but Sri Lankan society still feels that familiar involuntary shudder whenever it is reminded of its ethnic diversity; fallow ground for any ethnic conflict. However there has been little room for reconciliation and repair and the Rajapaksa government keeps pressing hot irons against that wound. By keeping a semblance of insecurity and instability and letting ultra nationalist sentiments run riot the Incumbent can continue his appearance as a victor who ended Sri Lanka’s civil war and can therefore end the very instability he himself initiates.

Now with Sirisena hot on his heels and Rajapaksa unprepared for an election that has suddenly seen a wave of public disapproval of his government’s administration the regime has stooped to an all time low. Mudslinging social media accounts and fan pages on Facebook comparing Maithripala to Judas Iscariot have made the political debate an even uglier affair. I stumbled upon a Facebook post where a user who curiously decided to create her account after the announcement of the presidential elections claimed that those who vote for popular Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena should not use the roads and highways built under Rajapaksa’s tenure as president. Firstly, she clearly does not understand that infrastructure is eventually paid for and owned by the Sri Lankan people. Sri Lankan society has unfortunately promoted the sort of culture where we hand out “IOUs” to our political leaders for doing their duty in a gesture of subservience when our leaders are in fact answerable to us, the people. We have somehow mixed up our gratitude and laud the president for victory of the war while our valiant soldiers have been reduced to building racetracks for his children. “O Tempora, O Mores.” Sirisena himself in his interview with the Daily Mirror addressed this culture where he stressed that the “people have to get used to letting go” which itself is an experience.

With falsified and baseless claims of Sirisena abducting a child’s mother being broadcast on state media it is clear that the regime is panicking. For good reason too. Sirisena’s portrayal of himself as the champion of the agrarian community who promises to promote the representation of women in parliament, and pursue much needed law, order and justice in the country has amassed bus loads of people (from their own city too!). It hasn’t helped now that the Rajapaksa Government’s past has come back to haunt it. The Rathupaswala incident in 2013 where the army fired at citizens protesting for drinkable water ,eventually killing three individuals has resurfaced, the blind eye they turned to the Muslim community when they were being victimized, assaulted and oppressed has lost them their support. Even worse, recent slip-ups (completely unforeseen my Rajapaksa’s astrologers) such as Minister of “Higher Education” S.B. Dissanayake’s comment that former president Chandrika Bandaranaike should be stripped and sent naked on the road has given the people a glimpse of what kind of crass ‘thrada’ MPs make up Rajapaksa’s government for which the tax payer is forced to pay. Let’s not forget deputy minster of disaster management (no pun intended) who boldly and publicly claimed the current government has robbed the country sufficiently and therefore by electing a new government, the people will only usher a new band of thieves. “Preposterous” is insufficient to describe this absurdity. UNP MP Harsha De Silva notes how low the UPFA campaign has reached, distributing political merchandise in the form of Rajapakse clocks, motorbikes and exercise books to coerce the people into voting for him. Quite the violation of election laws.

This choice to follow a campaign of baseless slander and sabotage and bring down Bollywood stars for hefty sums rather than address the grievances of the people has left the regime with few cards to play. It is utterly absurd that a government which claims to be cloaked in patriotism must rely on Indian personalities to get its message across to the people. Yeah we’ve all heard the story about Salman Khan’s visit focusing on his “charity”. Have you also heard that I’m Batman? No? Thought so. So the next time someone reminds you about the Rajapaksa Government’s roads and infrastructural development , remember that development isn’t always about infrastructure and what comes first is the people and the society with which you live. The price of development is not being paid for with his own money but with your blood, sweat and tears. So don’t vote for leaders who only turn to you to extend their power and otherwise ignore your grievances. Don’t vote for leaders who resort to primitive measures such as blocking social media. Don’t vote for the leaders that take pleasure in slandering women, and rape the law.

Vote for yourself. Vote for society.


Image not owned.