Indran Amirthanayagam

Indran Amirthanayagam is a poet, essayist and translator in English, Spanish and French. His first book The Elephants of Reckoning won the 1994 Paterson Prize in the United States. His poem “Juarez” won the Juegos Florales of Guaymas, Mexico in 2006. Amirthanayagam has written five books thus far: The Splintered Face Tsunami Poems (Hanging Loose Press, March 2008), Ceylon R.I.P. (The International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2001), El Hombre Que Recoge Nidos (Resistencia/CONARTE, Mexico, 2005) El Infierno de los Pajaros (Resistencia, Mexico, 2001), The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose Press, 1993).

Amirthanayagam’s essays and poems have appeared in The Hindu, The New York Times, El Norte, Reforma, New York/Newsday, The Daily News, The Island, The Daily Mirror, Groundviews (Sri Lanka). Amirthanayagam is a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow and a past recipient of an award from the US/Mexico Fund for Culture for his translations of Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia. Amirthanayagam is working currently on a translation of poet Jose Eugenio Sanchez.


After the Party

       — in Memoriam: Anura Bandaranaike

I remember an evening
flavored by my mother’s
cooking, bringing
two smart patriots
together, to speak
about devolution
not yet realized,
what makes sense
seeing the island
from afar, the only
way forward,

two dear friends
who met then
for the first time.
Now, one is laid
to rest, and
the other engages
readers still
to think afresh
about slow or fast
bombs, double-speak,
cynical tongues, how
to bring more than

twenty five years
of war to an end
before all our parties
break up and families
gather, with shot-gun
shells and confetti
to scatter, at weddings
held on holy ground
beside gravestones
where fathers and
brothers, mothers
and sisters are buried.



We walk across railroad tracks.
It’s late, the moon full, waves
roaring on the other side
of coconut trees.  There
aren’t any goons asking

for id’s. It’s 1980 or some
such year before current
flapping of metal wings, birds
alloyed everywhere dropping
pellets right on our foreheads.

Aiyo, we say, how the hell,
machan, don’t buggers
know how to shoot, and
these poisons flowing
in our blood.

What’s become of older
weapons of war, when
knife pricked or bomb
blew off the head but
left the next man alive

to attend to his family
and the fight? Now
cancer multiplies
his cells and we should
not walk across railroad

tracks or down on
the beach off Galle Face,
which today’s children
know as a high security zone,
and their older siblings

as no-man’s land, lovers’
folly, but we protest
too much, surely
we can carry passports
in our bathing trunks?



(Berries and Chicken)

There’s a rub in these black
berries on bread with a glass
of milk on a Saturday morning
when rain trickles down
through mist and fitful
cold ‘though not to complain
about weather, this is no
long john winter,

and across the Pacific
an old friend rides bullet
trains and types into his
Blackberry about once
forgotten wheelbarrows
and rain water evenings
we ate steamed chicken
outside the library

at Chatham Square
in Chinatown; meanwhile
the poem will not insist
on personal memories,
wishes to barter in
chinatowns, capture hearts
in Frisco or Vancouver,
or even in the birthing

places, Guangzhou
or Shanghai, or some
Cho Fu Sa, or far northern
village; I have to study
the map and ask the reader
to travel with me into the heart
of this ginger and hot rice
beside a white chicken.



Nice to walk
to that first
time, spade –
thin, I gathered
my wits

typing class
while a girl,
like mine,
came up to me

and smiled;
I held her hand
and felt her
hold mine.
—a Friday
in Honolulu,

to wear sandals
to school,
boogie boards,

yet I admit
I did not
to do with
that hand –


Come Home

Come home,
now– not just
for kiri bath
or poll sambol,
or a salt slick
on the beach
and a tumble
in the hammock.

Come home,
now– wandering
the planet means
if you don’t
return for the party
and make
your parents glad.

Come home,
now – though
the parable
does not fit.
Father died
and Mother’s
left to keep

their house
for another son,
and always
local allegiances,
and church
up the road,
and visitors

from England
and Australia
or the island
once called Ceylon,
where branches
of the family tree
flower still

Come home,
now– for
a stringhopper
to remember
jeeps rolling
over jungle

tracks, or
the name
of some half-
to share
all the loaves
in the basket,

before noting
how singular
the Army
has become,
bereft of
its esprit
du corps

into a
of loyalty
and tribal
the island

lost at sea,
and now
the alarm
for my
airport taxi.