Saturday, May 25, 2013

Black Oil: Four Days at a Reconciliation Camp


A poem written by a volunteer of Sri Lanka Unites who volunteered for the Future Leaders Conference Season 3. The poem was dedicated to her team "Vavuniya Vikings"

By~Pawan Kalugala

They had nothing to say to each other, thirty
children in a camp.
Plucked like hard green mangoes, sharp with the tang
of distrust; and deposited,
sweating nervous mango-milk,
into a single gunny bag-
not knowing what to expect-
But fear, of course- that was always expected,
They had been taught to expect it from their mother’s lap.
So they held their faces carefully blank, as taught;
expressionless- behind still masks
sullen suspicion lurking. Always on their guard,
what was coming next?
Thirty silent vessels, full to overbrimming
with their generations’ hate,
Poured in like boiling oil; by fathers, grandfathers
uncles brothers old women frightened mothers,
black, bubbling, angry.
They could not move for it,
the thick liquid that bubbled and boiled inside them
Could not open their lips for the scalding black would spew,
spill over- so they kept their lips stuck fast,
biting tongues that blistered
while howls of agony rose blood-raw in their throats-
It thickened like a film
over black eyes,
Glazed over unshed tears, a layer of hardened pain,
Until whoever looked into them would see nothing
but a hard wall of defiance,
cold, calculating rage
It crept into their hands
no matter how many times they wiped them,
sweated out from the very pores of their skin,
turning palms slippery with it-
the oil of distrust, snake-faced fear-
Black oil
Slicked back into their hair,
annointed into heated scalps by nervous mothers,
anxious in their aching love-
the stench of cold sweat,
and a mother’s fearful whisper,
“Never trust their kind.”-
till it seeps into pulsing, frightened brains…
So they had nothing to say to each other.
and on the first day they slept
huddled together at night, on two separate sides
of the room. Dragging mattresses over
to form two islands, their new lands;
and between, a vast stretch of seething, hostile sea.
The second day passed in silence.
Eyes meeting eyes, then quickly averted,
A hand once brushing accidentally another,
then snatched back as if scorched-
as if surprised to find it made of warm flesh, too.
Narrowed eyes trying to evaluate
this strange new finding-
they were made of skin and flesh too,
the “other kind”?
And us, with our nervous smiles plastered
on our faces, sweating with the effort
of keeping up a warm and friendly front, welcoming;
raising our high-pitched voices with forced cheeriness,
“Come on team! Talk, move, mingle- These are your own
brothers and sisters, you know!”-
and the strain of our own forced laughter
for we knew none of them believed.
On the third day, someone- was it you, my lovely Saya?
You with your chirping voice, bright with little bells- started
singing a song in your tongue. Your wide lips trembling
in your beautiful nervous smile-
and, slowly, they joined in, the ones who knew;
and the others, mumbling to the tune, fumbled with the strange,
unfamiliar words. Wrapped their tongues around them, like pickles,
tasting the sweet acid taste; dropped them. Faltered.
Then picked up again.
and like the sun breaking through the monsoon skies-
the first smile, shooting up from under parched soil,
to struggle above the dry-cracked earth, a green shoot-
And suddenly, the black oil shifted
thickly, like seas parting, in the depths of dark eyes.
The lurid film melting like a storm cloud
clearing, and the first tear fell to a waiting earth-
Dissolved, and in parched throats where, stuck fast like sticky boiled sweets
in solid thickness, congealed black muck finally gave way-
and freed tongues came up
gasping for air-
and hands, so much alike
brown-skinned, light-palmed; hands
passed down from generations that had watered
this land with their blood and sweat. Hands clasp, unslipping,
and the smile through tears, “My brother,”- and, in the same breath,
Forgive me.”
And the first arm- was it yours, Falaah? My quiet boy with the gentle smile-
stretched out in offering, a mouthful of rice to his neighbor-
was he Sinhalese? a Muslim? Who knew? Who saw?- in the flurry that followed,
Thirty hands feeding each other, thirty arms embracing,
thirty faces blurred with laughter and tears, clamouring
to feed another a mouthful- “This time from me, this time from me!”
and salt, mixing in the white rice,
fell on wounds-
the blackened blisters, livid burns,
slow, angry boils- that the black oil had left,
and, slow but sure, they felt the healing begin
for salt
is good-

No comments:

Post a Comment