Lost Evenings, Lost Lives: Tamil Poems of the Sri Lankan Civil War Edited and translated by Lakshmi Holmström and Sascha Ebeling

Tank _summer 16_books _63

Paperback, 160 pages
Publisher: Arc Publications (October 2015)
ISBN: 9781904614999
Languages: English, Tamil
Selected by Kai Friese

“War isn’t good for much and it isn’t usually good to poets. But it frequently provokes some remarkable writing. This harrowing anthology of the poetic remains of the 30-year war in Sri Lanka is all the more compelling because it is in the Tamil voice of the defeated. What struck me hardest was the particularity of so much of the imagery: the preoccupation with individual homes, streets, shops and days. And, of course, individual individuals. The universal particulars of loss.” —Kai Friese


“Last Evening, This Morning”1  by M.A. Nuhman

Last evening
we were here – just here

Through the crowded Jaffna streets
teeming with traffic
we wound our way, wheeling our bikes

We stopped for a while
at Poobalasingham Book Depot
riffling through the magazines

We gazed at the crowds
thronging at the bus-stand –
so many faces
so many colours
coming and going
climbing in, getting off,
going about their business

We strolled past the market
past the statue of Thiruvalluvar
went as far as the Post Office Junction
breathed some fresh air at Pannai

Just next to the Regal
at the tea-stall there
we drank tea, smoked cigarettes
We went in and watched a movie –
Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

Then we rode our bikes home,
the wind ruffling our hair.

This morning dawns:
along the streets we walked
khaki-clad men patrol, guns held aloft
bullets rain
piercing bodies
drinking up lives

The bus stand is dead
the town has lost the smell of human beings
shops, gutted, lie smoking
the old marketplace is shattered
on every street there are charred, blackened tyres

And this was how
we lost our evenings
we lost this life.

[1] This poem, translated from Tamil, refers to the terror sparked by the anti-Tamil riots that followed the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections in 1977 where around 300 Tamils were killed.