Indran Amirthanayagam

Indran Amirthanayagam

Volume 15:2, Spring 2014


Geese honked on their way
to the other side of the sky;
rain and wind teamed
up cold and befogged
the neighborhood
the day my father died.

The day my father died
my brother sang a lullaby
to accompany him
on his journey up high,
to that territory
where my son says

he will teach poetry,
where I say poems
will fry like butter
and geyser out of the hole
in the center of space
as if from molten rock,

my son, out of entrails
of carcasses still
Fleshed, from trees
ripe with vines,
conceived in death,
hammered from memory.

Here are belts and hides,
impressed, distilled,
etched on buckles
and holsters, ola-leafed
images, parchments,
poems to survive the fires.

He has left us his name—
we wear it today—
and metaphors
that curdle and whirl
through our consciousness,
each one at its own pace

in nature’s slow dying,
in its corybantic profusion,
my father, you have given
us “the Saving Cup,”
and voices from the wilderness
and caught “the undertow

of sadness, which rocks
what fleeting gladness
there is today, or may once
have been.”  Now, that
you have seen the vision
that enlightened your face

and suffused it smiling
in the moment of death
by the altar
of the Blessed Sacrament
in this Saint Jude Church,
now you can tell us

quietly in dreams,
as we stumble
into morning
and break our bread,
that awesome secret
which led us out

of the island and
into a history where
a turn of the head
does not make salt,
and you do not expire
in gunfire, or necklaced

with a tire, where
you can make peace
with God and guide
your children,
adore your grandchildren
love your countries—

all the countries
woken up by
your voracious reading
as boy and man—
the countries
from which all travelers return

—the day their fathers die—

laden with gifts,

—the day our fathers die—

awesome secrets

—the day our fathers die—

ambrosia, bliss

the day Rasa, the day Guy,
the day our father died.


Anandan Amirthanayagam, "The Day Our Fathers Die," digital painting, 2014.

Anandan Amirthanayagam, “The Day Our Fathers Die,” digital painting, 2014.

Impressing Dad, the Poet

There is nothing sweeter than a rhyme
falling right in glove, like the couplet
that ends a Shakespearean sonnet,

or a bird in full-throated song before
the concentrated hush, swooping to pick
a worm off the nose of a sloth asleep,

hum of a cricket ball, struck in the sweet
meat of the bat, ball in flight straight out
of the park and into dreams, swinging

a poem like a driver in golf, straight and
high, a hole in one, hollering, Daddy, look
at what the Muse brought in to my cup.

Be Rude, Boy, Again

Shall we take a sea-bath, friend

then burn the salt off
devouring hot prawns

lying near a fountain

Shall we swing high
over the palms in Ceylon
cut off a king coconut

snap it on a stone
spoon the sweet flesh
belly in belly out, my friend

lying near a fountain

Shall we bathe in arrack
in the evenings singing baila
or act cuckoo in the midday
when all the offices spill

sarongs and shirt-sleeves
sarees and ties
into plantain leaves
housing hot curries

Buggers, you and I
prouder than elephants
rutting in a jungle clearing

fighting cocks singing
rugger songs boor boys
in rum shop and shabeen

flattened near a fountain

into smooth smooth tile
in a rest area
designed between towers

Come on, machan,
come on, brother,
let’s get up
let’s get up

The sea is red-flagged
its current murderous
shells in billions
are being thrown up

Let’s get up
let’s get away
be rude boys
rude boys

drinking toddy
talking politics
jumping ship
jumping ship.


Forgetting Process

Tissanaiyagam, the journalist,
has received a presidential pardon,
which absolves him of the crime
he did not commit.  A minister

of the new cabinet stated
publicly that employees
of the public sector should
be trilingual and he will work

to install a system of instruction
to achieve this goal.  We hear
some of the emergency
measures will be softened,

no more media monitors,
and detention without charge
and only last three months,
these are concessions, let us

not begrudge them.  Shall
we say, they are goodwill
gestures from a benign
divinity who can settle

down to drink arrack
in the afternoon, no war
in the north, no journalist
union meeting the press,

even the masthead
of the Leader newspaper
has removed its founder’s
photograph?  Remember him,

bludgeoned to death
by an elite squad
on motorcycles?
His wife travels abroad

still giving untimely speeches.


Accounting for Civilians

Nonplussed means surprised
and confused, says the Oxford
online, but the editors add,

almost as an afterthought,
wearily, resigned, that in recent
North American usage the word

has taken on the opposite
sense, as in unperturbed.
This variant does not form part

of standard English, they claim.
Who will determine the fate
of nonplussed?  Who shall

write the new standards?
Every afternoon outside
47th Street and First

placards are out
screaming nonplussed
about the latest caving

in of the United Nations
before murders of innocents,
unperturbed, in far-away fields.


Light After Storm

How can I make amends?
Trust broken, hurt discovered,
obsessive search for love

while the house burned
on the island, and finally
the page, empty like the sky

in winter, grey and threatening
rain and hail, but these lines
do not end with the beating

storm; morning light comes;
birds who hung about, close
to seasonal shifts, sing.


Indran Amirthanayagam writes poetry in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole. He is the author of twenty three books of poetry and poetry in translation, including Origami: Selected Poems of Manuel Ulacia, Blue Window (Dialogos Books) The Migrant States (Hanging Loose Press 2020),Coconuts on Mars (Paperwall, 2019), Uncivil War (Mawenzi House (formerly TSAR), Canada, 2013), and the Paterson Prize-winning The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose, 1993). Amirthanayagam is a 2020 Foundation for Contemporary Arts fellow in poetry, and a past fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts, the US/Mexico Fund for Culture, and the MacDowell Colony. He edits The Beltway Poetry Quarterly; curates the reading series Poetry at Beltway Editions, and publishes poetry books with Sara Cahill Marron at Beltway Editions. He serves on the Board of DC-ALT. His blog is