Two Poems by V.I.S. Jayapalan

Sri Lankan anthologytranslated from the Tamil by Shash Trevett, Harvard Review Online, Boston, MA, USA, December 5, 2023

One Night in Frankfurt

Packed like litter in the belly
of a pregnant sow, a group of men
from Jaffna lie seemingly lifeless
in a room in the heart of Frankfurt—
their bodies curled in blankets
wrapped tight like Egyptian mummies.

Work uniforms soak in the bath.
Saucepans litter the floor as time
meanders aimlessly. They are rootless
like stray dogs, limbs lying askew
like clubbed snakes. The darkness
of the night invades their days.

The mercury dips below zero.
On this night one of them sobs, thinking
of lands back home lying mortgaged
in the strong box of the village Big Man.
His sisters wait, anticipating a hopeful future.
He is like an orphan in his own country
a refugee in this foreign land.

On this night, like storm-ravaged Batticaloa
his oppressed young life unravels.
A thorn pierces his wounded heart
as he crumples a letter bearing news
of a beloved’s betrothal.

There will be no auspicious day for the man
who abandoned his home to the mosquitoes.
On a snowy night in Frankfurt
he cries in bewilderment
feeling the bite of the cold.


My love,
do you remember the days
we strolled on the shore
searching for shells,
the waves foaming at our feet
erasing our tracks?
Something blossoms within us, I said,
an expanding blue, like the blue
of the sea and the sky.
You stood still and upright as a stork
about to spear a fish. The only movement
my image reflected in your eyes.

You said: you are old in years
yet your mind shows no trace
of grey. My love, I said,
To be young is to desire life.
To be young is to desire learning.
To be young is to search endlessly.
To be young is to have an inexhaustible appetite.
To be young is to dance and sing tirelessly.
To be young is to be eternally in love.

How old are you, she said.
My love, I am he who will live
fully until death.

Published on December 5, 2023

Originally published in “Out of Sri Lanka: Tamil, Sinhala and English poetry from Sri Lanka and its diasporas,” edited by Vidyan Ravinthiran, Seni Seneviratne, and Shash Trevett (Bloodaxe Books, 2023).

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