"Cleft" performed & written by YaliniDream; cello by Varuni Tiruchelvam
recorded at Francis Phan Studios 2006
My father was born with an opening at the top of his mouth.
A cleft pallet—
a hole in need of mending
His parents sought healing
took my father as child to the doctors.
But at the hospital he caught polio
which mangled his legs
and the hole was still there.
People fear mangled legs & strange walk
“Perhaps the diseased,” they talk,
“are punished for past crimes”
People think that twisted limbs are twisted minds
Unable to catch the rhythm of my father’s legs swing
People pitied him holding their faces grim
But intelligent children
treated like imbeciles
become angry and fistful
fury volatile as a pistol
metal calipers meant to
fix a cripple
bound my young father
ankle to knee
His dream becoming to walk free.
Until then when threatened
he used them as weapons
he cracked & bloodied skulls
sending others to hospitals
he threw bricks through windows
teachers tied him to chairs
and his anger grew
over another year
trapped within infirmaries.
His grandmother was his only school.
Everyday she visited him in the hospital
She, told him stories of Tamil soldiers
fighting for the British in World War II
coming back with cut limbs
And his anger grew
Everyday she read him the newspaper
He had nothing to do but think…
Then came Singhala Only acts
more gatherings tear gassed
lies, torture, and propaganda
and his anger grew
His dream becoming for his people to walk free.
He gave speeches
“A wall should be built
between Tamil and Singhala”
He placed rage and brilliance in the troubles
At 14 he was a part of a movement
a part of revolution
a part of standing tall
against all those who exploit us!
He didn’t know that burning empty buildings
would lead to a land full of mines
children clutching machine guns
cyanide capsules around necks
the massacre of neighbors
who pray in your same tongue
thousands and thousands pushed from home
He didn’t know that liberation can become a prison
That destroys everything you ever know to be precious.
revolutions of power
burning and turning
revolutions of power
burning and turning
you’ve got to
love your people
to serve your people
you’ve go to
love your people
to protect your people
you’ve got to
love your people
to defend your people
Who Will Love My People?
My father couldn’t run
but he rode all of Jaffna by bicycle.
Now Jaffna is full of holes
left by those who took up arms
but were caught by a disease
that mangled their hearts
the people search for healing
and the holes are still there
War was born from
rotting wounds left unkissed
Nobody’s love, just guns & fist
War was born from wounds unkissed
Raised by riot
swaddled by manipulation
nursed by massacre,
Truth’s decaying body
hung from a lamppost--
these nations’ever-half mast flags.
But in her sleep came visions--
histories passed through dream
running through tall trees
stealing crow eggs
snatching fresh fruit
salt water holding their bodies
soft muscles sailing across waves.
Yet War only knew
running through lands salted by mines
stealing rice to stall starvation
snatching limbs so they may not burn in enemy pyre
War aches for the flutter
of her first kiss
that she may heal and rest.
She dreams in salt water tears
of an island in a bloodless sea
of blue ripples teasing a still sky.
War was born from
rotting wounds left unkissed
Nobody’s love, just guns & fist
War was born from wounds unkissed…
written July 2008 25 years after the 83 riots “Black July”
Uncle rushed from work
with news of the burnings
Ignorant of the depth
of government betrayal--
the Colombo Tamil landlords
believed if they put
this Jaffna family
into riot filled streets,
they could be spared.
Aunty & Uncle ran to a neighbor
to be put out again the next day.
They secreted between buildings.
When her breasts emptied,
Aunty poured sugar into
my young cousin’s mouth
to mute his exposing cries.
They wondered how others escaped….
It was an elderly Singhala man
who hid them by day in chicken coop
& opened his home for my family to sleep at night.
This man closed ears to calls of killing &
his own son’s demand to expel them.
Instead he evicted fear.
On July 23rd 1983 10 days of brutal violence began. This period is known as “Black July” or the ’83 riots and often marks the official start of the civil war in Sri Lanka. In response to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) killing of 13 Sri Lankan Army soldiers, the government sanctioned mob killings by Singhlaese people against thousands of Tamil people, the burning and destruction of Tamil homes and businesses, and two organized massacres of Tamil political prisoners in Weilikada High Security Prison. My aunt, uncle & baby cousin managed to be among the survivors. “The Eviction” recounts some of that story.
Black July followed a series of violence against Tamil people having occurred in 56, 58, 77, and 81. The LTTE grew to be the brutal response to a brutal and bigoted Sri Lankan Government that called for war or a military “solution”. Losing sight of the actual liberation, empowerment, education, and protection of Tamil people the LTTE recruited child soldiers and were the first group to “perfect” the female suicide bomber— some of whom were young rape survivors tracked to martyrdom. In 1990 the LTTE forcibly evicted 80,000 Muslims from the Northern Province. The Sri Lankan Government remains responsible for numerous human rights violations including shelling and bombing of civilian areas, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture. The Government supported a paramilitary group that also recruited child soldiers and have failed to demonstrate any respect or value of Tamil as well as other marginalized peoples’ lives and communities.
Flesh rains trees
where the road flooded with
the people seeking safety
the thick air and
muddied red soil
is unable to swallow
the mounting bodies
or muffle her scream
as a woman is
herded into a camp
split from her dying husband
trapped in a small room with 30 more cries
fed food that pours out from her faster than the tears.
She bathes under army men’s
unable to leave
guarded from dignity
imprisoned in “safety.”
A baby is
cradled between craters
left by air strikes
the government claims it never launched.
A young girl tries to fill infant ears
with her strained song,
feed the child
something other than
the smell of decaying flesh.
This should not be the scent of first breaths.
To survive an elder buries herself
with only her face uncovered to respire
the earth her only shield against the shells
that may fall as she attempts to find respite.
The injured strip and tear clothing
to dress exposed tissue and bone,
press sand into rancid wounds.
This they say is the end of terror
This they say is the end of war
This they say is victory.
the cruel become even crueler.
the monstrous more monstrous.
And each uses the other’s evil to justify their own.
I like to dance with
sun browning my skin.
I have no patience for gray days.
But she stills me.
Enough to spy the slow caress
of clouds against heaven’s skin,
or eavesdrop the moans
from thousands of drops
pressing into thirsty earth
sky, open, wet, pour
She reminds me that the
rain brings out the luscious.
Next to the Divine
Perhaps if every raised hand was a tender call
each roar from the sky a pending storm
each flash of light in the dark a firefly
And each body pressed against another
was to meant to comfort and warm…
If the world was absent of violence and war
we’d think of fear as a delicious thing
that tickles the breast bones from within.
Like the flutter that comes
before breath turns to song
Or the quickening beats of a
heart slowly falling in love.
Fear would be skin prickling
at the sound of truth confessed
the shivers from thunder
so enormous it cracks in your chest.
If each flash in the night was a firefly
Perhaps fear would simply be
next to the divine.
Out of Nowhere
It seeps from the slit above
An unsealed window’s sill
teasing the skin like
A stream of cool into
a crowded room thick from heat.
It bursts a fleeting moment
of almost touch
of breath before word
of smile buried in swallow
of the brinking chuckle swimming beneath a blinking eye
It reveals the perfect infinity
living between 0 and 1 second
And before I can comprehend
The presence of her musk penetrating the air
this strange stilling force
perforates my armor
magnetizing steel meant to shield
creates a pull explicated only by epics:
Are we lovers reuniting from another time?
Hearts pumping new blood
But our spirits still entwined
Parted by death caught in this breath
Souls long lost
Cut from same cloth
Unable to stop
searching till other is sought
Or are we
of a new destiny?
My teeth buzz—
shook from the intoxicating relief of love
Once upon a time there was a girl named Sangeetha –
One of those lip chewed, always polite,
laughter gurgling up from first breath,
You see li’l Geetha liked the Tamil parties
the uncles n aunties, the mamis n mamas, the tatas, the patis
--sugared in the spell of whiskey and sweets
all telling stories of then and how and was and when.
She was the kind who took to the chatter of spirits.
So it surprised the aunties and uncles
To see how Sangeetha behaved that day…
In this time, once upon a when
there was also a girl named Raji--
One of those grass stained, sneaky-spy,
eyes creeping up above cheeky smile,
red chili spiced childs
but Raji’s runnin round didn’t keep her
from havin an eye on perfect Sangeetha
Raji saw how Sangeeta listened, giggled, & clucked
at the “How much you’ve grown!” and “remember me’s”
while Raji squirmed at the old people’s judging touch
Raji simmered watching Miss Tamarind Sweet
treasure her praise & kiss every cheek--
See Raji knew all about lil’ Geet
How in truth she was a funny child
And how much playing love story
with the girls used to make Sangeeta smile.
Raji wanted to share the guilt, the beatings, the shame, the needing
So she called Geetha a two-faced bitch,
a lying dyke who didn’t deserve shit.
And to the surprise of all the uncles n aunties, the mamis n mamas, the tatas, the patis
Sangeetha, tamarind sweet, pounded Raji.
Sangeetha let loose a pulse flattened
from squeezing through cracks
the smoke she so carefully passed as shimmer.
And salty Raji sodden with tears & sweat fought back.
fists glossing face
hair plucked in tufts
nails welting skin
to the rain of sighs, gasps, huffs
Until gripping in dizzy weary
of stuttering sorry’s, and heart scurries,
lips pecked at grazes between gulping breaths,
and the girls tumbled hoplessly into each other.
I wonder if a day will come
when I will stop feeling the need to write about war.
A day when that task is left to reminiscent bards
who tease children with stories of the Dark Times--
“when gunpowder was used for weapons instead of firecrackers.”
And when the child wakes with
crusted eyes from nightmared sleep,
A mother rocks her with assured whisper
“shhh baby, it’s just a silly dream.
We are the descendants of
the healers & truthseekers.
These are the days of love.”
A Comet's Realization
There are parts
for some time
I had left unvisited
I used to get
lost in shadows
murk & misted
that dull yet translate
until i returned
to a path full
with hints & traces
in dark places :)
Louis is always falling asleep in class
Miss is at her final straw—the very last
No one’s ever home
when she phones
And perhaps if she hadn’t
spied the love poems Louis
Writes and hides
on his binder cover’s insides
she wouldn’t have even tried
Cuz while they drooped and sighed
In English class
Louis’s eyes held wide for
Sophomore Reena’s hip swish
And despite the many
“I’m sorry miss
Won’t happen again”
Louis rests his head on the desk
Giving little heed to the
Essays written by men living or dead.
He numbs out the mantra
of his teacher’s reprimands
“Don’t you understand
the importance of this English class?
If you don’t stay awake
When u take the regents you’ll fail not pass.”
Having been his parents translator
since he was a little bitty thing
This wasn’t the lesson Louis feels he needs to learn
He knows already too well the
Worth & weight of each English word
Having witnessed during his father hospital stay
What exactly is at stake when your English fails
So he dreams of young Reena
The way her scent transforms the air
Her caramel skin and long dark hair
In her laughter he’s able to
Forget the weight his heart bears
Since Daddy died and Mama found
work driving a cab at night
You see even for
a woman who home birthed 3 children and
sneaked across the US border
protecting herself against New York’s late shift
passengers could be a tall order
So each night Louis sits by his mother’s side
And every eve
Reena sneaks Louis a free coke from
the corner store where she works
So Louis can be alert during his moon lit rides.
Reena’s sweet smiles
Reminds Louis that life isn’t always as trying
Cuz to him sitting shotgun to divide
the odds of losing his mother to bullet or knife
is a seat of privilege
Cuz unlike Reena, his mother’s marriage
to his Puerto Rican father gave the
social security number needed for a license
to drive, and a way to make decent money
Louis knows how
Reena’s mother was fired from her sewing job
When she talked backed to her boss
after a canceled lunch break & lowered pay
No papers or English meant no jobs
Even for the wisest in this economic crisis
So Reena’s 14 year old American tongue found the way
To feed her brothers and keep the landlord at bay
Louis does know how important English is
The weight and worth of each word
The luxury awarded to American articulation.
He carves each precious letter
into his binder cover insides
stitching a poem
for his first love
he wishes that he could explain to Miss
Why he is sorry.
This Step On the Path Feb 2010: For Haiti in the name of the Creator
"The Creation created us so that we be creative" --Calai
How can I reflect upon this last month without writing about Haiti.
an island nation of beautiful dark brown in agony
a people having endured gash after gash
from destructive force after force
slavery, colonization, exploitation, war, disaster
as a Sri Lankan, how can my heart not ache deeply for the wounds of Haiti-- left unkissed.
Things will never be the same.
and yet i am reminded that wounds themselves are not bad
And to have been wounded does not mean we stay damaged.
Healers will heal, witches will conjure, seedlings will reach for the sun, new folklore will be birthed, seekers of justice will storm.
and love will be love will be love...
It is not the injuries to our body that is to be hated. Afterall our wounds become a part of us and to hate the wound is to hate ourselves. And the pain that screams from a lesion has lessons to teach us/ Leads us where we need to go/ sumetimes to the tender soul-- so deeply connected, yet so utterly alone/ And the secrets to magnificent strength lies sumtimes in a broken bone.
not the wounds.
It is the injustice that should be despised.
If God was to punish humanity for our sins,
If Earth was trying to rid herself of her toxins,
The Divine would have begun at the seat of power/control.
These sorts of injustices are not the ways of God or the Universe
but the ways of the diseased greed bred in human society:
The debt France imposed on Haiti--with warships as threat-- to make up for money they would lose when they stopped being slave masters,
The US/ Euro Embargo; Corruption sanctioned in the name of anti-communist propoganda, military occupations, coups, neo-colonialism,
It is the un-Godly practices of exploitation, bigotry, violence and control-- These are the practices that set the stage for the devastation that followed after the Ocean raised to the skies, the Wind whirled the gulf, and the Earth shivered & shook.
It is not nature that rages against the souls of people.
Though there are forces that strive to pit us against ourselves.
For we are storm. We are earth. We are wind. Moon. Ocean. Sun.
“We’re a storm/ we’re a storm/
We are thunder/ we are lightning/
…We are the ones who’ve been called/
the world needs changing”
-- Gina Ulysses
passed onto me thru Ayinde Jean-Baptiste
This Step On the Path: January 2010 My Daily Prayer
For the last 4 months I've been in the midst of a whirlwind. I stepped into a beautiful, magical, fierce, frightening storm.
There's no fighting the wind. She'll have the rain fall sideways, snow spin upwards, and the ocean reachin for the moon like you've never seen before. She'll kidnap you away from yourself if you're not paying attention. Ohhh but dancing in that wind'll make you feel like one powerful being. almost damn invincible at moments.
But after all that spinning and running and flying and being tossled bout every which way: I found myself-- well, weathered. Spirit awake but body n heart slightly broken n full of ache. I woke up one cold mid-December morning with a pain so strong in my back i was unable to move.
The universe had called me to be still.
Electricity needs to be grounded.
And time seems to go by so much slower when you're trying to heal.
Anytime I lose myself a bit the Universe snatches me back. This time it hurt. But I feel blessed to have come into the new decade present and grounded.
My first poem of 2010 was a prayer. (In some way all my poems are prayers. but this ones more explicitly prayerlike.) Many of y'all know I was raised Catholic. ok not just raised Catholic. I was a sunday school teacher, youth minister, in the youth and adult choir, confirmation sponsor, done almost all the sacraments i can. I loved me some God :) and still do..
But as I worked more vigilantly to address contradiction & injustice, Catholicism could no longer hold me and my path shifted.
I often pray and possess deep spiritual connections with those who practice not only Christianity but Hinduism, Budhism, Yoruba, Islam, Santaria, Mysticism & Magic. I believe deeply that there are infinite paths to God. And while i still call upon rituals from my Sri Lankan Catholic upbringing, my spiritual practice has been molded and influenced by these other faiths.
So on the dawn of a new decade I offer y'all this prayer-- bits n pieces of what I've been praying for/ plus a few new things for a new decade/ glued together with sum rhyme/ from third world catholic cultivating spirit in community/ & outside of religious patriarchy.
(its kinda corny-- but thats just how i roll sumtimes; i'm an ex- sunday school teacher afterall :)
A Daily Prayer
In the Name of the
Magic & Faith
Amen, Ase, Blessed Be
Thank you for the infinite blessings
I witness, experience, and receive
May my heart, body, spirit and mind
Be open to the healing power of the divine.
May that healing flow
through, between, within, amid
the connections I have with all that lives.
May I walk in a path of love & light
May hope not fear be my drive
May I let go of control & expectation
Instead be responsible & live with intention
May I have the strength & courage for the journey ahead
May I be aware of where my feet tread
May patience ease dissatisfaction & unrest
May I speak truth, May my dreams manifest
And when my soul from this body's released
May my spirit fly free
my life have brought peace
and all those that I love know that to be..
In the Name of the
Creator, the Healer
Magic & Faith
Amen, Ase, Blessed Be
This Step On the Path: July 2009 Revolution in Known
General Principle of a Cell: “Each cell is at least somewhat self-contained and self-maintaining: it can take in nutrients, convert these nutrients into energy, carry out specialized functions, and reproduce if necessary. Each cell stores its own set of instructions for carrying out each of these activities.”
My physical training over the last year has lent me valuable insight into my spiritual path. When I train my goal is to increase my body’s potential. Increase it’s ability to function, move, express, remember, learn, experience. Increase my body’s potential to be one with mind and spirit. This is not to say that I don’t encounter other ghosts. Specters who want to prove something or look good or escape or all the other things that have sometimes motivated my physical activities in the past. I definitely chill with that too. Recognize em. Sometimes I even follow the ghosts to see where they lead me. Try to understand what brought them to me. But I always return to reaffirm my current intention. It’s important to me that this goal of increasing my potential remains my focus.
I discovered that healing is a continual part of good training. Not only is it essential for me to address past injuries so that they don’t worsen (and decrease my body’s potential)—but also to understand that tissue tearing and repair is a necessary part of muscle growth.
I’ve been thinking about this tearing, stretching and repair that my muscles go through. How much nourishment, commitment and patience it demands. The collective effort of so many cellular entities. And the power that is experienced in the moments when I’m finally able to step into that strength and express it.
Been discovering that stepping into my power spiritually calls for somethin similar. It too feels cyclical, something I’ve done before and something I’ll continue to do again. It calls for continual healing from the past as well as from the natural soreness growth brings. It requires recognizing/listening to/facing insecurities, doubts, fears. It requires hard work and reflection. Nourishment, commitment and patience. And finally it requires the courage and confidence to express that power.
Perhaps that’s what makes a warrior--the ability to unearth, affirm, and express spirit.
My Martial Arts teacher Sensei Emory Moore Jr. always says that Martial Arts is what taught him to be such a good healer. I seem to keep learning and learning from this idea about the connection of the healer and warrior.
This June in New York City it has been raining raining raining. Ohhh it was driving me to grit my teeth and complaaaain, complain, complain. I put up with all that winter--its time for my sunshine dammit! Then a dear one came back from visiting Texas to tell me how parched the Rio Grande River was. Because of damming, diversions, wastewater discharge, depletion, etc. the river that quenched life in the desert was a trickle of what it once was.
I got sad thinking about a thirsty river. and felt selfish for hatin on the rain.
Where else is left desiccated?
What other majestics have been robbed of their gifts?
Could all this rain be the planet trying to fix herself?—set right what we’ve put off course.
Cuz the planet is a part of the universe and the universe is no joke. A system of intricate interdependent moving parts. From micro-organisms to galaxies to things I can’t even begin to fathom. Closest thing to perfection that I could imagine. No doubt Universe knows how to set herself correct—rid herself of toxins n tumors and harness the energy of the trillions of entities listening to their inner knowledge.
Maybe that’s our journey as healer/warriors…
To allow the Universe to pull us into her pulse.
Trust that revolution is known--written into our blood, bone, muscle.
And like the thousands of collective cells each storing their individual set of instructions—to be a part of setting things correct.
This Step on the Path: A Prayer for Peace June 2009
On the morning of May 18th I woke to the emails stating that the LTTE had silenced their guns, Prabhakaran—the LTTE leader-- had been killed, and that the Sri Lankan government had declared victory in the over 25 year old war. I pushed back my 9 o’clock meeting so I could scour the net for more information and listen to the radio,--but most of all so I could take it in. While a Tiger defeat had been pending for months, I needed time to let the news settle into my body. According to the headlines, the civil war in Sri Lanka was over....
Some of my earliest memories were hearing stories of the "troubles." My parents taught me who they were(and who I was) through bedtime stories. Stories of my father's determination as a young polio survivor marked a cripple. Stories of my mother's innocence as a child swimming bare in the ocean. And ofcourse stories of the "troubles"--riots, gatherings tear gassed, burning buildings, rebellion.... Thinking back it seems heavy material for a three year old—but I don’t ever remember being scared. I wanted to know more. I remember being acutely aware of how unfair it was—that I was randomly born into a family that was able to live in a country without “troubles” (or at least the kind my parents spoke of). That I didn’t have to bear the direct suffering of war. But that other children my age did. At six years old my grandfather who had passed away came and visited me in a dream. When he asked me if there was anything I wanted, I told him I wanted the war to stop. Peace in Sri Lanka has been my most consistent and frequent prayer since I was a child. Its been so many of our prayers.
But this wasn’t the day I’d been praying for all my life. This is not peace. Not yet. While I’ve despised the Tigers and spent many a moment virulently decrying the actions Prabhakaran claimed to do in the name of Tamil people—I found little relief in the LTTE’s defeat. Today at least 280,000 people have been displaced—most of whom are in desperate need of food, water and medical care. Aid workers have still not been given access to the internment camps that displaced people are kept in. Tamil people and othe minorities' basic rights continue to be violated and denied in the name of security. It’s still yet to be determined how many thousands of people were killed in this last offensive. Extrajudicial killings and abductions have not stopped. Sri Lanka continues to be the most dangerous country for journalists. And the root of the conflict has still yet to be addressed. Day by day more wounds are made with so many other wounds still left unhealed. With countless people still suffering I see little to celebrate.
So every day I continue to pray: May peace come to all peoples in Sri Lanka and May light and love continue to flourish even in the darkest and cruelest times.
in struggle, YaliniDream
This Step on the Path: May 2009 Breath In the Midst of Busy
The past month has been full. In beautiful and blessed ways as well as challenging and heart-aching. The blessings include some wonderful performances and events. The challenging include growing/changing with loved ones, grappling with the atrocities in Sri Lanka and wrestling with a schedule that I allowed to become a tad overwhelming. I spent April racing from place to place, phone call to meeting, pulling late nights, falling behind on email, letting little (and sumtimes not so little) things slip. It was a month filled to the brim.
But just cuz life is full doesn’t mean I can let the reflections and lessons I‘ve been exploring the last few months disappear. On the contrary it's at these moments being present becomes that much more important. Doesn’t mean I’ve always been able to do it. Like everything else it’s a process and I’ve definitely been trying.
I found myself thinking about the words of a young woman life has blessed me with knowing—Sam Smith—who had walked both the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails by herself. For folks who don’t know (cuz I surely didn’t), Sam walking the Appalachian trail meant walking from Georgia to Maine and walking the Pacific Crest Trail meant walking from the US/Mexico Border to Washington State. In making these treks Sam said,
“The true challenge of long distance hiking has not been the hiking part (that's the fun part), it has been learning to integrate the wisdom of the trail into my everyday life no matter where I am or what I am doing. I have learned, over time, that magic, beauty and meaning does not only exist on the trail, but everywhere, in everything and everyone. It is only a matter of mindset and attitude.”
Though I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been hiking, her words have really stuck with me. I believe that this wisdom can ring true of art and prayer as well. Part of this path for me has been integrating the magic, passion, knowledge, presence, & spirit of what I experience on stage and in creation into the everyday. It’s about turning prayer into not just something I do, but a way of life. Recognizing that prayer is speaking truth, listening deeply, taking responsibility, trusting the universe, staying present when all you wanna do is run away, making connections, taking the time to heal. But its not always easy to do especially during the hectic times. Somedays I wake up and I’m filled with joy by how far I’ve come in this journey. And on others I find myself weary and frustrated faced with my contradictions and fears. Those days are the hardest to be gentle with myself—though that’s when I need it the most.
Reminder to self: Breathe...
Breath is the simplest form of movement
the simplest form voice
the simplest form of prayer
it is what connects whats within us to that which is outside
it is what holds us in the present.
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