Katherine’s Forwarding Address
I’m in the world’s last bookshop,
A used-books store that faces the sea.
Beyond the shore, until one reached the Antarctic,
No countries or commitments, so the dolphins are free.
A small shop – mainly books in the local languages.
A few Dutch and German editions; romance books in Portuguese.
Shelves touching shelves, like in a village library,
Where – almost brand new but let go for free –
I find piled together two editions of Ashok Ferrey,
The Loyal Stalker and (40 pages bound upside down)
What Lies Between Us:a Nayomi Munaweera.
Four Sri Lankan titles
And a Lankan print of Anuradha Roy:
All the Lives We Never Lived, Booker-shortlisted winner of the DSC Prize.
Where it doesn’t matter, above the barcode, it looks small to my eye:
This book is not for sale outside Paradise Isle.
Like grass-blades caught in an unexpected wind
In a courteous bow, Chhimi’s hand is slanted .
It is for Katherine, the book is flourish-signed.
For all the company and conversation.
Ferrey’s hand, circles across the page:
Followed with a debonair endorsement.
Dear Katherine, it seems to say. Here I plant my signature.
Ferrey, La, Munaweera and Roy’s local publisher:
In Colombo, they all lived on connected roads.
Fortified by books, bathing in the same municipal water
Delivered through German taps in the old Dutch quarter, on roads styled in Portuguese,
First Language English; their domestic and public servants, locals.
The Cultural Curve, from Kollupitiya to Colombo 5.
Colpetty, they say (Colpetty People is the name of Ferrey’s book),
Colpetty to Fife Road, to Havelock Town.
Either side of the Portuguese cinnamon plantations,
The land where the Colombo new rich later built their homes,
Where the English nursery rhyme was born,
Uptown Colombo, book-buying, poetry-peeling, wine-tasting
From evening to night, night to midnight and morn,
In the fief from Pittala Junction to Fife Road.
And Katherine –
Katherine must have been there, too.
Two Ferreys, a Chhimi La, a Munaweera,
And a Perera-Hussein print of Anuradha Roy,
Dedicated to Dear Katherine, by the esteemed authors,
The others, bought or given as affectionate gifts:
In all, spoils she had carried with her, Katherine,
10,000 miles from the Indian Ocean’s (Lost) Paradise Isle,
Somewhere in her traveling suitcase, finding space,
As she ventured south from land to land over the changing sea,
Until she reached this port – the last known in civilization,
Where the books, to this establishment, were probably given free.
And, Katherine? Where did she go from here?
I walk out and stand at the curb’s edge and remark the gulls dip
And take off to the heavens above the sea.
Where did she come from? The books, why didn’t she read?
Why did she carry them this far unread?
Did she unfurl her wings, or did Katherine
Walk into the sea?
Vihanga Perera is a Sri Lankan poet and writer of fiction whose work is widely known in the country of his birth. He is also a researcher and teacher in Sri Lankan and South Asian Writing. His poetry has won major prizes in Sri Lanka including the Gratiaen Prize (2014) and the State Literary Award (2015).