Nipuni Ranaweera

The lost poems, “Cut a banana leaf,” A Trimester to remember-The Police chief, The Forest officer, and the Suitcase 2021: Nipuni Ranaweera

The lost poems

All those poems
flailing with severed arms and legs
necks broken,
spines protruding beneath
Words unspoken-
stilled screams on sealed lips,
and the not- so- frenzied ones
those that will posses
me again, at their leisure
like an unexpired token
floating in floral fumes-
their chords intact-like whips.

“Cut a banana leaf”

“Ćut a banana leaf.”
I remember my mother instructing
with authority, my father
and sometimes my brother.
Always more than just a phrase
but a dictum,
uttered grandly
along the lines of
“Hand me that grenade”
“Press the trigger” or
“Cut the Cord.”
Her face pressed into grim lines
of determination and ruthless
culinary skill-
we would watch,
tense- like a pressure cooker,
like an army on a drill.
My father and brother, mere instruments
in the delicate ladling, smoothening and
cutting off edges-
would be shooed off the moment the banana leaf
was delivered-
and with the passing years
as I advanced from handmaiden

to junior priestess,
I took quiet pride in the fact that
I could fathom that the milk was
simmering just so, or the
sweet was bubbling giving off
heady fragrances-
just by listening to
her order-
its timing, its cadences.

The sapling in our tiny backyard now
is scrawny with neglect, with no fish water,
poured on with ritualistic zeal-
no coconut husks-onion skins adorning
its depths with assorted peels.
But the rice still bubbles in the coconut
milk in a creamy self-satisfied manner,
albeit restrained in the rice cooker.
A new spatula hangs smugly
on my countertop- quite a looker-
and it’s capable of smoothening
the rice flawlessly.
But something in me yearns for the bustling
search for the banana leaf, the untidy but satisfying business
of pressing it down lovingly
upon a mound of soft and yielding rice-
the cutting, the molding, the laying.

I cannot, I find, cut that particular cord.

So, “Cut a banana leaf.” I hear myself saying.

A Trimester to remember- The Police chief, The Forest officer and the Suitcase 2021

Make me a police chief,
and I will not be too rigid,
I promise not to grow a mustache,
sprout hair on my legs, or bark orders-
I won’t be too harsh,
raise my voice or grow frigid.

Allow me to be a forest officer
passionate about all things wild,
but I’ll be tame- I will
wear a sari on rugged terrains-
wade with its folds intact in murky mangrove swamps.
I’ll make tea for my colleagues-
I will lower my voice; I will be mild.

Let me live, in relative safety-
and I will walk like Visaka
even when men pelt me with abuse
feel me up in buses- make lewd comments on the web.
I will walk like that fabled woman,
walking naked, but walking in style-
and in my hands, instead of a gem-
I will hold my own dissected head
and it will not bleed offensively
but offer you a most lady-like smile.

(A comment on three (unrelated) incidents in early 2021 in Sri Lanka, the red tape preventing the appointment of a female police official to a top post in the forces, the criticism and attacks on a woman forest officer who spoke against deforestation by those in power, and the discovery of a headless cadaver of a woman, murdered by a man, in a suitcase.)

BIO: Nipuni Ranaweera is a Sri Lankan academic, lawyer and poet. She shares her poetry on various online fora and her first book Take me in small doses was nominated for the State Literary Award, Sri Lanka 2022. She is also a reviewer and takes a keen interest in contemporary Sri Lankan writing in English.