Two poems by Amali Rodrigo


Muggy afternoon in class, a word,
an inky beetle that scuttles across my open book.
I come to with a slap across the page.

The teacher squints at it, sari bristling,
then sends me out of class, to the principal
for doodling dirty words in geography.

Booby-trapped, it rolls off my tongue
in triple beat; Ga Ze Bo.

It’s the Ze that did it,
I’m sure of it, like a high wall you could never
see over, the absence
in the alphabet of a mother tongue.

Ga, is a shape shifter, water’s scallop
in a river or ringed in a bowl, slipping
easily from tongue to tongue.

Bo, spot-lit, is a sepoy,
eclipsed in English by a holy tree,
the tree of wisdom, the tree of death* .

Bo is a stone temple-step with the dip
worn away by generations. Bo is in the eyes
of the beggar who goes from door to door
at full moon certain of not being turned away.

In the playground girls gang, chanting
Kaduwa Kaduwa for days until
someone else slips up.

GaZeBo forever yoked, is a house that isn’t
a home. Airy, trellised as a lie
you see through and through and through.
*In 1985, 146 pilgrims and monks were shot dead while praying at the sacred Bo tree at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.
Kaduwa – literally, ‘sword’ – is a taunt used when someone is thought to ‘show off’ their proficiency in English.
(from Poetry London, Autumn 2011)

They said we’ll never find them,
capricious as hearsay

or dream creatures moving through
the forest like faint recollections,

a puzzle of pelt and form as if a child’s
hand had a part in it, the myth

more perfect than a long low note
of an oboe or the russet of marrow

caved in bone, makes it necessary
to strike out on narrow trails

perpetually circling back or leading
to cliffs where tracks fade

on the brink of space. The Okapi
disappears the way wind moves

leaving no vacancy, the stilling leaves,
coffers of light we can do nothing

with, that we grow into the listening
stance of a tree, and it finds us out

shoring up against a loss
that isn’t there.

(from Magma 53)
Amali Rodrigo holds a BA is Econometrics and is currently studying for an MA in Poetry at Lancaster University. Her poems have appeared in Magma, Poetry London and PN Review. In competitions she’s won 1st prize in Magma, 2nd in Poetry London, was shortlisted for the Wasafiri Prize in 2012 and has been commended in Café Writers and Bridport prizes.