Desh Balasubramaniam

Desh Balasubramaniam was born in Sri Lanka and raised in both the war-torn Northern & Eastern provinces. At the age of thirteen, he fled to New Zealand with his family on a humanitarian asylum. During and upon conclusion of his university education, he spent considerable lengths of time travelling on shoestring budgets through a number of countries, often travelling by hitchhiking and working various jobs. His continuous journeys have further evoked his passion in expressive art and embarked him on the endless quest in search of identity. He is the founding director of Ondru–Rising Movement of Arts & Literature ( His poetical work has appeared (or are soon to appear) in Overland, Going Down Swinging, the Lumière Reader, Mascara Literary Review, Blackmail Press, QLRS, the Typewriter, Trout, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and various other publications around the world.

The Zoo
Fate of war—shunned
to a strange land
‘Paradise’ said the coloured brochures
Refuge for the abandoned,
                              honeymoon pictures
Left at unversed doors,
new mother, a father—fern trees
Skeletal abode (a two-room home)
Six ‘curry-munches’ crammed (given
Solitary walk to school (a week late)
Shortened route through Saint Francis church
And in crucifixion
                          Christ smiled at the new boy
Across the painted gravel (black followed
Arrival with the street flash of amber
                           next to ghosts of raised collars
Vultures in little clusters
Barely spoke theirs (English)
Blank across the muddy face
Stared by blondes and the blue-eyed—
                             day at zoo
Fame spread to the knotted fence (all in a day)
I wilted
                            kowhai at midday
Dragged along the sports field
Dye of cut grass,
the habitual stain
Face below the bolus clouds,
                           chewed away
Midrib’s aches—courtesy of nameless stouts
The weathered knees—size eleven shoes
Spat on the frameless face; a freckled senior
Chased daily by the two-legged hound
Living on the same street
with a black dog—his absent father
Brochures of paradise
                        pealing on the bedroom walls
Mother battled (once a believer)
Father struggled (still does)
                        a liberated prisoner imprisoned
Sisters fared (better)
                         reversing eastwards over rising mound
Little brother (a chameleon who crossed the sea)
Instead I,
                         lived / died / lived (barely)
Worse than war! (my morning anthem)
Harnessed a glare
                        Soiled words
A borrowed face
                       no longer mine
Even my shirt; gift of a kind woman
Days turned the pages of solitary memoirs
Hamilton’s winter fell
over the departed mind
Firewood burned steady
Anger pruned the neighbourhood trees
And painted the empty walls
Fog mourned over the distant mile
Blowing mist; permanent numb
First two years
                         couldn’t afford the school jacket
Recollection: Days of school 1992

My Country, my Lover
My country,
goddess of adulate flame
Craved by men and yesterday’s youth,
her countless lovers
Slumber of scented hills
Bathed dress-less
in thrust of Indian Ocean
Architecture of her European conquerors
caught in curls of frangipani edges
Mahogany breasts in your palms,
secret passages of jackfruit honey
Her long neck
                           curved guava leaves
Drunk on her southerly,
I weep
My country, my lover
misled by her lovers
An orphan child
sold and bought in abandoned alleys
Without defined tongue,
speaks in smothered hollow of hush
Her stitched lips
Forced by men of buried hands,
imagery impaired
Bruises—poisonous firm holds
Jaffna lagoon bleeds—weeps
from within to the nude shores
                                  never held
My country, my lover
like my first love,
                                           —in ledge of my chest
Crumpled rag and I,
                the creased servant
Thrown off the berm of eroding clutches
by robed sages growing devotion of odium
Her face in a veil
divorced from podium of speech
World chose instead,
comfort of venetian blinds
At wake, my shuteye
below the lowered knees
in cobras’ glare
                             my country, my lover
                             my hands are chained

Smoke of Zebu
Grandfather turned the land
with a pair of humped bulls
Too young to lead the plough
I watched,
                               spotted coat and short horns
Dung of bull; blood of his ancient breath
A boy I watched,
                              fall of red stained sweat
Father turned the land
with a mechanical bull
Red tractor that ploughed the path
Too young to turn the wheel
I watched,
                              treads of the beast; ascend of tipper’s axel
Smoke of zebu; blood of his young breath
A boy an inch taller
I watched,
                              rise of red filled sweat
Years in exile,
grandfather’s ashes turned
to a palmyra palm
Father withdrawn
beneath beat of an aged heart
In an anonymous land
no longer a boy,
rather an unshaved man
Held to bones of his flesh
—I watch
men of immortal minds
masked in pureness of white
Turn the land
—a liberator’s salute
Plough the loyal breeze
Erasing the fallen history
I watch,
ploughing through pages of a pen
As they turn my blood
filled with corpses
                              who once had a name