Written by Janiru Liyanage
Our Father who art in heaven
And we’ll stay here on earth
Which is sometimes so pretty
–– Jacques Prévert
Shklovsky once said that writing is done to “make the stone stony”. He meant all our ostensible approaches to art should be to dissociate familiarity with our existence. He meant that to write is to hone into the wild beauty of this earth. How bizarre, how unimaginably lucky that I live in a world in which I can call my grandparents an entire ocean away just to ask them what the Sinhala translation is for mosaic because Google Translate has failed my people enough times. Years ago, this would have been the work of faith. Lately, I’ve been trying much harder to appreciate these unpayable debts of gratitude. The spider on my window is a blessing. Its nomad silk web is a blessing.
Ever since I was younger, I’d fast on and off throughout the year–– both as a way to keep my mind occupied and as a theological exercise. In my faith, I don’t believe that any arduous demonstration of belief could ever bring me even an inch closer to being even with God. But still, I insist on doing it now just as I did then, though I think I did it before more as showmanship than anything–– the kind of fasting you want to tell all your friends about.
Once, during a fast, a boy said I always stink of curry. The boy smelt of diesel and rust. And I remember being ashamed, but more than that, I remember how I wanted to become like him so badly. Not because I admired him but because I wanted to be home in Australia.
I wasn’t even hungry but still, we left class early, snuck inside a KFC on the side of the road and bought go-buckets. In the throes of eating, my fingertips slicked, my mouth caked in oil, I became animal. I became wild and greased with want. Look: my clumsy fumbling toward desire the way the vine hungry for light moves unwieldy through the half open lid of the botanist’s glass jar.
I’ve always known that no place on this earth would be willing to house a brown body like mine; not here, not Sri Lanka.
After the Easter bombings in Colombo, everyone wants to know if I am okay. Everyone wants to hear that it was difficult to get through. Everyone is so sorry. Now more than ever.
No country could ever give me a house to keep this worn brown body. Even when it was never difficult for me. Even when I was okay, and I hurt quietly through the night–– the red, a bloom against my shirt.
In a poem, I write in the mouth of God, we are all home.
My mother can’t sleep for weeks–– moves like a stranger into the bathroom. Flicks water against her face, her eyes yellow and pulsing. Whispers, Lord, may they return to you before you return for them.
Through the glittering computer screen, I watch a Sinhalese man say “our brothers will win”, as a bomb blooms bright in the distance, his nest of purple lips pixelating into a thinning smile. His smile, pixelating into a bright flash. The bright flash pixelating into an Our Father who art in heaven.
The light makes the soft myth of his body. The light makes us. Whole. On the warmest nights, my family and I sit out on the porch to watch the stars, even if only for a few minutes. There, porchlight limning our faces into some kind of bright future, cinematic in all its parts, we make silence a kind of God. We watch the stars and let its light travel millions of miles to die in the back of our eyes. And isn’t this how all faith wants to end?
In the mouth of God,
we are all home.
At a workshop, the poet asks Who is your kingdom? I know who she’s talking to. I don’t listen. Her voice spills out of my laptop speakers like smoke. Like, a call to prayer. Who is your kingdom? Who is your kingdom?
When I am asked to write to a place I hold dear to my heart, I want to say Sri Lanka so badly. I want to say of its warm dry earth and water hugging the shoreline like a blade. But even my country wanted me dead and now, there is not a single place I can name because naming is a kind of ruin.
When I want to write a poem about the Sri Lankan Civil War, I constantly go to the internet and my family, but the information from both sides is such a difficult space to wade to and to write in; there are too many perspectives that not a single poem or work could ever pay homage to. There’s this great Western myth that all narratives, all events, have characters existing in two binaries; the always good hero, the terrible villain. But for my people and their stories, we’ve never had clean binaries. Yes, the Tamil Tigers did terrible things to innocent Sinhalese people, but so did the Sinhalese army to Tamils.
Yet, this is why I write. To make new worlds that warm in my hands. To make these spaces, open and free for the people I love to inhabit. To live. To speak and sing. I am much less interested in writing in the myth of the binary than I am writing in the shattered space in between.
How wild this being; the Sinhala soldier shatters a Tamil student’s head because he was carrying a novel called Gamperaliya, which translates to “Changes in the Village”. How wild, the Tamil soldier killing a Sinhalese boy whistling the anthem on his way home.
According to quantum mechanics, everytime a choice is created or neglected, the universe splits cleanly in half and so for this reason, yes, the bullet was a creation story. Once, a white man carved up a map with thick ink lines and this became another.
Once, a white man knifed black lines into our bodies, assigned numbers, gave us names to dangle beneath our feet and thus, our voices ruined into song. Thus, we became the people who warred against their mirrors. Who globed the ends of arrows with gold because we wanted to be this close to beauty in our deaths.
There is no one place I can name because my kingdom belongs to my people and my people are everywhere; uncles all smoke and liquor at the party, aunties salving all our wounds. My people flicker in the dark; a flock of brown and gold and copper spilling out of the taxi; the Sri Lankan boy drinking water from a ditch in Jaffna and the Sri Lankan girl turning into wind somewhere in Virginia.
I feel most home when I know all the words to the hymn in Sinhala. Understand its meaning roiling in the back of my throat without having to translate each sentence in my head. I feel most Sinhala when I cleave a thin red lip line through my fingertip when cutting onion; when my mother teaches me to shred dill in the dulling halflight; when I watch the Sinhalese teledrama and the man breaks down in front of the woman he loves and she sings return to me before I return to you beloved beloved beloved.
My kingdom is to my people. My kingdom is the space I leave behind. My kingdom is gold and adorned in ligature. My kingdom breaks and breaks and does not end. I crack a rambutan; open it to its glowing white flesh; see it knifed through with gold veins and I want to weep. I feel Sinhalese even when the border patrol agent laughs when I say I am. I feel my kingdom–– hooves pounding in my blood. I feel my kingdom blooming. Right here, on my kitchen countertop stained in juice on a 36 degree Sydney afternoon. I am writing to you, my people. My one dearest kingdom. My one place that I get to touch every day; in the mirror. In the metal clots of blood in my mouth. In my living room, the windows shot through with yellow braids of light. Yes. Now. Especially now. Now more than ever.