Crimson

What pile is this? Dumped.

Red rivers running down

Against the wire — Slumped.

Adorned with crimson crown

Did you pray O silent 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.
***

Written Long Ago In 2013.

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Victory Day

“I want to be a soldier, miss!”
My teacher adds one to her list
“And you?” She points her length of chalk
At her decree I quickly walk
And blink before the silent class
Beside some plaque of beaten brass
“Would you become a soldier, son?
Bold and strong – they have a gun.”
I purse my lips and shake my head
Remembering those trembling dead
That limped across the road one day
— And no one stopped to give them way.
No one thought them bold or strong
Or cheered them as they trudged along
With stubs for limbs and canes for guns
Blind before a noon day’s sun.
The youth was plucked out from their eyes,
And seams were stitched along their thighs,
Across their face and gaping holes.
They wheezed along, that sad patrol
Into some home for former men
Where wars were lost with pus and phlegm,
Where daily lines were drawn on charts,
And surgeons cleft dead limbs apart,
Where nurses pressed down weeping ends
With gauze and mesh and burning blends
Of spirits, drugs — then hemmed with thread.
The day’s frontier for these near dead.

I see their eyes. Those wells of woe.
I shake my head and answer “No.”

Before Her

Before her I am Thespis – unflinching, playing my part,
Ignoring every laden ache metered on my heart.
Before her I am Hector – yet Heaven tips the fates
And I am found here languishing – and she, beyond my gates.
Before her I am Caesar, and she the Rubicon
But I shall drown beneath her might while she rushes on.
Before her I am Vulcan – ugly, monstrous – lame
Twisting words and praise for her sweet and splendid name.

But now I am a poor man, bloodied, robbed and vile
And to mourn the truth of it – unseated by a smile.

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

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Switzerland – Spring, 2017

I recently made a solo trip to Switzerland and moved about between Luzerne and Bern, both lovely cities in their own right. Below are my favourite photographs. I’m a little proud of the clock tower photo reflected off the toolbox as I had challenged myself to take a photo of it that was unconventional. I’m not sure if it meets the mark of a good photo, but I suppose I love it like a parent loves a child even sans discipline.

All rights reserved.

Show Me You Are God

Show me you are God,
For I am in the pit
And within these seven walls
There is no place to sit.

Show me you are God,
For there is silence still.
All my friends have turned away
And wish me naught but ill.

Show me you are God,
For I am full of wounds
Wrought by your unseeing eye
Fixed upon my tomb.


I’m sorry I’m not a 100% Christian. I cannot eternally pretend that I am at my 100% and eternally praise God. I’d rather be honest and genuine here and make it clear when I absolutely cannot pursue God. Were we not made from dust? I’m just being honest here. Sometimes I argue and get utterly frustrated with Him — like this. I can almost here people brand me a heretic, but to hell with it. I’m just being honest here.

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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For I Am Flawed

Who beat the brown upon my skin?
Who cleft my teeth and carved my grin?
Who pressed my eyes into my face?
Who stole from me each form of grace?
Who scored and cut my ugly jaw?
Who strung my voice with its caw?
Who struck my scalp with wilting hair?
Who smote me dark and never fair?

Then tell me not, for I am flawed
That “Ye were knit by hands of God.”


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
Writhe 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

While Wise Men Wander

The Magi met the shepherds, whose tongues were lit with praise
Along the road beneath the star that split in many ways

“Whither rests this King whom Prophets did divine?
We have wandered many days to see this Lord sublime.
His are all the nations, people, and the lands
His alone the sceptre, won with wounded hands.
Men will call him ‘master’, ‘prince of peace, and life
And among his flock and fold, ‘saviour from our strife
Pray tell then joyful shepherds, where is this King we seek?
This King of whom the people say will bruise great Caesar’s cheek.”

 The shepherds paused a moment before their mouths could stir
And eyed the gifts beneath their robes — the glint of gold, and myrrh

“Of this King, we know not, but if you seek the star
Further Westward you must go, but do not wander far
Past rolling hills of roses, crimson at the stem
You will find a stable bare, in little Bethlehem
No regal lord resides there, good and kindly strangers
Merely by the ox and ass — a babe upon the manger.”

Then with haste to lay their gifts those tired Wise Men three
Beheld the heir to Eden’s stain and dark Gethsemane.

S.S. Bartlett

2-the-three-wisemen-simon-secret(The Three Wise Men – Robert Cunningham. Source)