Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart


Yasmine Gooneratne

THE SCRIBBLE (For Devika, aged five)

Between a sip and a nibble
she cries, "Look! A scribble!
Up there in the tree
He's winking at me!"
And sure enough, airily
swinging, and warily
eyeing us all,
a king in his hall,
there he is. "Oh, ex-queeze
me" ("thank-you" and "please"
brought this cousin along
with the ease of a song
for Devika's use
like the friendly, if loose
connection her "stewp"
has with everyday "soup")
and out on the grass
she runs, but a flash
of grey and the squirrel,
quick-witted and virile,
whisks into the hole
hidden deep in a bole
being not very sure
what his ardent pursuer
might do. And although
she finds as she grows
past seven and eight
that words grow sedate,
long may she find
verse in the wind,
rhyme run in rivers,
words hum and quiver
hiving sweetly as bees,
and scribbles in trees.


Enclosed within oneself a hidden plot
shelters a green and quiet-growing plant
whose leaves, upon approach, begin to slant inwards and seem to signal, Touch Me Not.

I thought I knew my garden well, but came upon this plant by chance when someone kind laid a well-meaning finger on the spine
of a green branch, intending it should frame

a fine display of graded roses. Tight
turned a leaf, and touched another, then cowering, all shrank upon their slender stems curling each green heart closely from the light.

And I, for whom your nearness sharpens light, reflect upon a green and guarded sense
to which the tenderest touch is violence plunging its secret shining into night,

and which, while every other bud and spray bids for the eye's applause, spreading jade leaves to familiar touch and handling, made its presence known the day it turned away.

5: the courtyard

A black afternoon
in the month of our removal
someone came in, sent by an agency
to help us get things back in order.

A paragon of excellence, it seemed 530
she had good references; also it appeared
the books on our shelves had been, many of them,
originally of her making.

So she set to work typing a half-done
manuscript, filing letters that had for
weeks been piling up unanswered. But after a time
we thought it odd, I remember, that her system

was quite so inefficient, parcels would
tum up unposted, drift back understamped
weeks later, sometimes, and instead 540
of the letters quite clearly dictated

to tradesmen and others, taken down
in her somewhat unusual short-hand,
she was always, it seemed, bringing me verses
to sign.

Middl-aged, tending to grey, comically forgetful,
as a typist more inspired than consistent,
handier with a Thesaurus than with the Concise Oxford,
medicine and literature shook out eccentric chemistry

on her machine. "An Editor might misunderstand," 550
you said, and since there seemed no question
already, somehow, of our getting someone else, I
took over the typing and she the domestic arrangements

which might have posed a delicate
problem perhaps (our house having been constructed
by two for four with no maternal space
into which we could slot her: to offer

the guest-room would have been by then
impertinent, to install her in an annexe
and close the door upon her naturally 560
could not be thought of now) had not the wall

recently built to screen our ravaged courtyard
without the aid of carpenter or mason
gently collapsed. She made no mention of
the scorched suspicious soil, the bitter grass, merely

moved in. And now beneath her touch
words break new green between the weathered stones
and lyric spreads cool branches under which
we sit consulting idly as the sun

beats in the grain. Under her tireless eye 570
the children keep immortal holiday,
their undesigning voices raised in play
fall into song and fill the air with light

soft music. Now the leaden panes shine bright,
and dusty relics crowded out of sight
float into lucid rearrangement, gleam
in patterns so original it seems

we see them for the first time, rnirrors glisten
till every wall's a flashing prism - listen,
the silence throbs in metre. All is set 580
to music now, this steady pulsing quiet

to which we move, from which our pleasures start
and flower in the house's hidden heart.


Mrs Speldewinde is holidaying with her son
Rodney and her new Australian
daughter-in-law Melinda, in Melboume;
Mr J. Herft (his father, the great John Moses
Herfl, one of the island's rugger heroes
forty years back, you may remember) grows splendid roses
in Perth, wins prizes every year
for his exquisite blooms; young Peter
van Rooyen spent his last vac on a charter
flight back, and found things sadly altered
but the old house standing still just
as he'd known it, and that must
have cheered him quite a bit . . . "
and so the print-out goes, linking names
of exiles and established immigrants,
carving new niches, keeping still green
the old connections, old remembrances.

Forget it, Peter, turn the page over on
that ivied memory of ten years back.
And God bless you, dear Mrs Speldewinde
and the rosy infant Speldewindes to be born
of Rodney and Melinda. And you, Mr J. Herft,
may your roses never wither.
Magician, your contented industry
coaxes new growth from a bruised memory,
filling again, with hard-won hardy beauty
the island-shaped wastes common to immigrant hearts.


6,000 ft death dive

DARWIN, Sunday. - A young woman parachutist was killed near Batchelor, 60 miles south of Darwin today.
Miss Gay Steele, about 22, died when both her main and reserve parachutes failed to open.
Miss Steele, an experienced parachutist, was practising free falling in a regular Sunday jumping session with the Darwin Parachute Club.
The Department of Civil Aviation is investigating the accident. (Australian newspaper, 1972)

The words should not disturb. An incident
good for a witty headline, an event
really quite minor since her strange descent
surely concerns her only, and the string
which failed to meet her casual tug and bring
her parachute the certain blossoming
that breaks a headlong fall, can link her with
none of us here. Alone she drew that breath,
the last before a vague and misty heath
flared into separate sharp grass-blades and
earth's massive upward stroke smashed it right out of her. Fanned
by turbulent winds, she drew alone to land.

Why then this impulse to re-live with her
the time of trust, create the urgent air
rearing beneath to catch her? watch this rare
adventurous spirit, match its check, its wheel about to bear her far in widening circles? And the twin
compulsion to explore in a thin
line of verse that moment when a pin
slipped from its socket and her fine
assurance shrank to fear? Could there have been
time for alarm? As Death began to lean
nearer, perhaps she knew merely a keen
loss of delight, a brief bewilderment.

Then may we hope the brain that has been lent knowledge of freedom, joy and power is meant
for just such ending? Quick, in cloud to flash
from skill to anguished fumbling, quick, to crash
from power sustained to a brief scarlet flowering
half-hidden on a quiet turf,
from poetry to plummet till we splash
down in a terse, laconic paragraph.


Drop after drop
into chill darkness
water trickles
stiffens in silence
reaching down
its thin questing finger
into an invisible
under it horror

Sour and salt
the poet's self
washed by event and ecstasy
flows downward in the dark
and is fixed
by a dry intelligence
in points
of crystal
under them

Building in ignorance
of what we build towards
sustained by only, only
the need to build
what if the light, striking in
centuries hence
on the blade of an explorer's axe,

shows only a muddy floor
flowing with the wasted years'
grey-brown futility?

Stalactite, stalagmite,
grace and strength, met in a night
of silence

Span these perilous spaces
hang translucent flutes, weave your air-thin laces in the chill dark

From their black caverns call the mysterious faces Pillars, spin
from floor to filigree ceiling

In the startled torchlight's wavering circle
Towers, sparkle frostily

Build on, poets,
out of ourselves, our pain
and our delight,
we build our own support

Build on, we shall feel this darkness glow
one fiery night
as our astonished fingers tremble on
the blazing summit of our own creation


"Then did (this Indian) King cause the Prince named Vijaya, the valiant, to be placed in a ship and sent forth upon the sea. He landed in Lanka, where one of his followers found by a lotus-shaped pond a witch named Kuveni, sitting at the foot of a tree spinning as a woman-hermit might. And she said to him: 'Stay! thou art my prey!' Then the man stood there as if fast bound.
And there in like manner she served all his companions, one by one. And when they did not return fear came on Vijaya: armed with the five weapons he set out, and when he beheld the
beautiful pond, where he saw no footsteps of any man coming forth, but saw the woman-hermit there, he thought:

'Surely, my men have been seized by this woman.' (Defeating
her witch's wiles, and taking Kuveni as his companion) Vijaya rescued his followers, founded the city of Thamba-panni, and
ruled there in peace and righteousness thirty-eight years."

(Adapted from the Mahavamsa, or Great Chronicle of Ceylon, as translated by Wilhelm Geiger)

Behind him a Kingdom sliding to decay
dragging with it lost childhood, sheltered youth
Before him alien shores, an unknown bay,
another Vijaya he ventures south.

A strange bird dreams on a dry bough; marsupials
lift liquid eyes in silence, questioning
a stranger's footfall. Here no leopards snarl -
do beasts turn also from the pain of living?

And is this pleasant landscape, then, to be
the chosen setting for his spirit's death,
the hammering media's brash mythology
to breathe on him irnmobilising breath?

Somewhere in this enchanted woodland brims
the secret well; and there her golden thread
his lost Muse sits and spins, and as she spins
the fallen blossorns listen for his tread.

False step to east or west, and desert grows
between these two. Look, landward from the sea
light footprints lead, through glades alive with shadows: Others have passed this way ahead of me.

Perhaps in a lost age another kindled
here, in this glade, from that bird's dip and flight
or from the shape the moon took as it dwindled,
bright myth to lie beside on a cold night

or built a legend he could crawl into
and warm his blood to health and fruitfulness.
Lost myths, tumed rubble now beneath the new
towering chainstore, rammed under the express-

way. I, a wanderer in this land,
tumed by necessity to new material
strange to my eyes, uncertain in my hand,
shall I be fortunate enough to call

into forms unimagined in my youth
new life? Create in joy, here, on Death's lip?
Another Vijaya, I venture south
here to reshape my art, refit my ship.



They scan the catalogue, write out a cheque and for the price fixed - thirty dollars -
buy my poor country.

She thinks it "interesting . . .
beautiful . . ."
He cannot see its colour
or feel its shape
They have not heard its silences
nor known its terror
But they are business people
and know a bargain
when they see it.

I watch them carry away bits
and pieces of my land
and I fix my thoughts on each second
of each minute
or each day. This way
there is no time to recall the past
or think of the future.

We have survived
other invasions,
other impudences.
We have welcomed, been
hospitable, suffered and
survived. But this time
our smiles Iick the ground
before them, our welcome
has a fixed tariff, our children
have become a nation of beggars.

Smile, live in the present.
This way there will be no time
to recall the past
or think of the future.


Lakdasa Wikkramasinha, drowned at Mount Lavinia,

A Sea-eagle drops
out of sight.
Empty horizon.

Amid the chatter of gulls
a waste of unwritten lines
washes sadly about our shores.

Macquarie University

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