She Is Fire: Poetry and Candy Royalle

Photo by Nicola Bailey Photography.

When she spoke, her words seemed to be coming from another time and place, as if she was shouting to be heard from a distant room, and we strained our ears, desperate to catch every syllable. She spoke of the sea and in my eyes she swam with the colours of the sunset and her voice rippled across the room, splashing intimately against our ears. I sat enraptured in the semi-darkness…

–       Written on the train, Sat 21 May, 2011


I’ve spent months trying to put Candy Royalle on a page and I have to admit – it has been harder than I thought. This strikes me as odd, because I don’t usually write like this. When I’m inspired, the writing usually comes in torrents and my fingers own the keyboard, almost as if they know what to say before my brain registers the thought.

And I have written about her – reams, actually. Disjointed paragraphs in that book and the other, even on my phone – all over the place really. Tackling a hundred different ideas and sensations that never really came together into one cohesive thought process. So here’s take number umpteen.


“I will her to want it all”, Candy admits from the stage, half singing, half speaking, staring directly into the collective gaze of her audience.

I drink in the tone of her voice, the sensuousness of her language and try to close my mouth, aware of the cameras deftly roving the crowd at intervals. I don’t want to be caught on screen with my jaw unhinged, but quite truthfully, that is how I feel on this late week night, sitting in this cosy pub enclosure together with a handful of people, watching this otherworldly poetess speak about love, sex, anger and politics.

This is the second time I’m seeing Candy Royalle on the stage.

The first was at a more public gathering, at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. I had seen her speak that same morning with a group of other poets, writers and artists who were using their work to inspire positive social change – a talk I enjoyed enough to want to know more about each of the speakers. So when I saw that most of them were performing that evening at a session of performance poetry, I thought ‘why not’. I had never seen performance poetry before and while I had a sneaking suspicion that I would find it pretentious or silly or downright depressing or all of the above, nevertheless, I figured there should be a first time for everything and decided to go along.

I’m not sure what gave me that first negative impression of performance poetry. I am a lover of language and I enjoy poetry even though it’s not usually part of my typical reading list. For whatever reason though, I had this picture in my head of self-proclaimed ‘poets’ standing on a dim stage with bits of paper in their hands, monologuing at length about their tortured feelings and depressing experiences, beating at their breasts while we sat in the audience trying to stifle our yawns.

So yes. The first time I saw Candy Royalle on the stage, I went with the eyes, ears and mind of a skeptic.

The poets who performed before her pleasantly surprised me – I marveled at their clever witticisms and wordplay and laughed at their impressions. I was enjoying myself. Candy was one of the last to perform. She had already intrigued me that morning – from her appearance, to her direct introduction of herself as a queer Arab woman, to the gentle huskiness of her voice, to her opinions on revolution and social change, to an excerpt of one of her poems that she had briefly performed. Continue reading She Is Fire: Poetry and Candy Royalle


Originally published on Groundviews.

Floods in Batticaloa (

I haven’t been reading the news much lately. I heard about the floods in the East and North Central Province and thought abstractly to myself, ‘how awful’. I watched the downpour in Colombo itself and complained about the shivering cold of that one day during which temperatures fell to 18 degrees – the lowest in over 60 years.

I never really fathomed the extent of the destruction until I happened across a 3-line post on a blog, linking to some footage by the airforce of the flooding in Batticaloa. I didn’t pay much attention to the article on the airforce site, but those pictures stunned me. Water up to treetops. Acre upon acre of paddy land totally destroyed. All I could think was, ‘haven’t they been through enough?’

War. Tsunami. Floods. Would it ever stop? Would they ever have the luxury of having normal lives again? Would there ever come a time when they would stop having to start over? I felt an immense tiredness for them as well as an odd admiration for their unending resilience and ability to survive disaster upon disaster. This post was a result of those feelings – a grossly inadequate but well-meant tribute to their struggle.


When the skies rumbled, angry and blistered with grey clouds, we were happy. Rain has mostly been our friend – a welcome drink for thirsty fields; a muddy playground for restless babies.

I myself have always loved the rain. As a child I would run out whenever my mother’s back was turned and spin like a runaway firework in the moving, liquid soil. Brown would squelch up between my toes and ooze onto my feet and the cooling sensation would make me swoon. My country is often hot and in those days, rain meant relief.  I would open my mouth to it, my mother’s distant scoldings unheeded, and drink with an eagerness than frightened me. As if I was trying to drink in the secrets of all of nature. And the water would not only quench my thirst; it somehow made me stronger. My feet always stomped harder after that first drink; mud would explode outwards, all around me, and I would feel invincible.

Even as I grew up and learned that explosions were not always joyous, I never stopped loving that rain. In the most bitter times, it would still taste sweet, and remind me of younger, happier days, when nothing ugly seemed to exist. When my world was solely and selfishly my own. I had no real worries then. If I cried I would be fed; if I couldn’t sleep my mother would stroke my back until the feel of her fingertips on my skin numbed me into unconsciousness. And if I was thirsty, I always had the rain.

My father was a farmer and so we lived by the rain. When it didn’t come, we, along with our crops, were devastated. Money was short, food scarce, tempers dark with hunger. Rain for us meant green, growth, abundance, food in our stomachs. As I grew older, when I ran out into the rain, it was to give thanks.

“You love the rain more than me” my lover accused once when my eyes were drawn one too many times to the streaming water outside and away from his dry, smooth skin. “No” I had replied, forcing my gaze away; but I was lying. Continue reading Rebirth

walk-around city.

Rain, by Deshan
i wish i could walk around you.
on a whim,
on a fancy.
on a silly dream,
to wherever you’ll take me.
i wish i could walk your streets,
and get to know you;
take pictures of your secret places,
your three million hidden faces.
i wish you weren’t too hot,
too dangerous,
too dirty.
all good in a man – but not in my city.
i want my city to cool me down,
be my hiding place,
be rough but clean shaven;
i’d like to take my city home to meet my mother.
colombo, i wish i could walk around you.
i wish you were big enough
for me and my dreaming.
big enough for a secret smile to go unseen.
a guilty laugh to go unheard.
for a whisper meant for no one
to be lost in peace.
colombo, i wish i could walk around you instead of hurrying
from one indoors
to another
to another
to another.
i don’t want to know you from my house,
inside my chauffeured car.
nor locked in sanitized office spaces.
i wish i could feel the skin of you,
warm roads on cool nights.
i wish i could for hours
sit unburnt by your sun,
undisturbed by your irresponsible sons.
i wish i could watch you in the open.
and i wish i could smell your rain from the outside,
me inside you;
my nose wrinkling free
instead of through a sliver of open window.
i wish you would clean up for me
but still stay irrepressible.
i love your personality
but i want to blunt your razor edges –
just a little.
i want to trip along your tree’d avenues by moonlight.
take me to your favorite places –
you show me yours, and i’ll show you mine.


i wish you’d let me
walk around you.
i know you’d clean up nice.
(edited by Deshan Tennekoon)

…for The Missing.

Originally published on Groundviews.

A solitary lamp perched on a desk top lights a room. A man scribbles feverishly on paper, hunched over the light as if he’s jealously guarding what little he has. His desk is cluttered with cartoons and drawings – some of a President, others of two small children. He holds down his paper with one hand and writes with the other, so violently that other loose papers and articles shuffle with his movements.

He is breathing hard, as if he’s run to his desk from sleep, taken by wild inspiration. He has forgotten to switch on the fan, and the heat of that December night hangs in the air, thickening like spoiling milk. Small explosions of sweat begin to burst from the pores of his forehead, drip darkly onto his fast-moving hand, and trickle onto the paper, blotting the ink. This frustrates him but he doesn’t stop to soak up the liquid, just writes on, faster.

His wife lies in bed in the next room. She is awake, some inexplicable worry vaulting the sleep away from her eyes whenever it threatens to close them. She watches the empty space next to her, willing her husband to come back to bed but knows he won’t. She wonders what he felt the need to write about in the middle of the night, leaping out of bed as if possessed. She was afraid he’d knock something over in the dark and wake the children, but that walk from bedroom to desk is so familiar that he doesn’t.

It is only when he feels that familiar cramping in his fingers that he pauses. He looks around the room, fighting to make out familiar shapes in the blackness outside his little circle of light. His house is modest and unadorned for the most part – the only exceptions are the sketches of his children that he has been drawing since they were born. Some have been framed; others lie strewn around the house – on bits of furniture, stuffed carelessly into vases by the children, folded within the pockets of well-worn wallets, dog-eared between the pages of story books. Continue reading …for The Missing.

The Dancer

People rarely inspire me.

I know this seems a strange statement, especially coming from me, but in reality, it’s not all that surprising. I usually get inspired by the feelings people can evoke within me – the absolute clarity of a moment of love, the spiking anger of a fight, the kickstart of your libido when a lover enters the room, the dull throb of sadness when he leaves, acute empathy for someone in difficulty – these are the fruits on which my muse feeds endlessly.

I can count on my fingers the actual personalities that have inspired me. These jewels are so rare that when I come across them, I wish I could grab onto them and just absorb whatever it is about them that sweeps me off my feet. I realize that I am making it sound like falling in love – and in a way it is. Not in any sexual sense, but in terms of the romance of it all; that illogical logic: the knowledge that you are in the presence of someone who you know you were meant to meet, for whatever reason.

There doesn’t even have to be a reason, other than simply so that they could inspire you.

*** Continue reading The Dancer




Looking oddly tough in her wife beater and a pair of her husband’s checked boxer shorts, Van comes to sit beside me on her sofa. “Dinner” she announces, and then pauses. “Now let me think”.

She glances over at the armoury of cookbooks sitting unassumingly on her coffee table and heaves them onto her lap. “How do I make mushrooms?” she muses to herself as she flips through them one by one. “Butter, garlic and fry ‘em in a pan?” I offer but she waves away this suggestion impatiently in her search for the perfect recipe.

I settle back meekly on the sofa and look on in amazement at this tiny girl’s energy. After a long, hard day at work all I want to do is kick off my clothes and shoes and collapse on the sofa for a good hour or two with milk and biscuits. Van, though, gets right to work, starting with her twilight brainstorming session on the couch as she decides what to cook for dinner each night.

I usually judge people’s ages against how old they seem compared to me. Tellingly, I have a tendency to think almost everyone is older than I am, but Van is a conundrum in this sense. Her tiny stature, unflagging optimism and ability to keep up a steady stream of chatter no matter what she is doing makes me sometimes feel older and thus very protective of her. Still, her endearing naïveté is offset by the fact that she is oddly street smart. I say ‘oddly’ because she is literally so tiny that one just assumes that she would get pushed around. But Van will have none of it. I commented on this to her one day. “Good things come in small packages” she replied with a big grin. Continue reading Vanna.

Why did you go?


Forever gone, by inharmony

Why did you go just when I needed something to believe in? When I needed to look out there and know that magic existed? When I needed to listen to music and have the words mean something, have them guide me towards decisions I found too difficult to make on my own?

Now I keep my eyes averted, looking at nothing, and for the first time in my life music no longer speaks to me. My iPod – once a source of comfort – lies unused and useless and I can barely pick it up without a shudder.

It’s like you timed it perfectly – I was searching desperately for inspiration and you upped went away. You were my source. It was you who first made me shake with the sheer power of your words, break out in gooseflesh at a mere tremor of your voice. It was you who surprised me with my own tears, and taught me that perfection could cause me to cry. It was you who first filled me with longing, before I was old enough to know to call it desire. It was you who made me realize that magic wasn’t just for children, it was you who taught me that it was ok not to grow up completely. It was all you. And now you’re gone. Continue reading Why did you go?

Michael Jackson: Never Can Say Goodbye


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

–          W. H. Auden

26 June 2009

Its 6.36 am and I’m in bed, not wanting to get out of it. In tears and in shock. Not wanting to write, but needing somehow to acknowledge this terrible, terrible thing.

I woke up to a series of texts and they all said the same thing: “He is dead, I can’t believe it”. I could barely breathe, the tears started before I could stop them as my shaking hands googled his name to find out what had happened. Even now, after reading the same thing over and over and over again, I can’t believe it. My tears keep coming and the shock is still new, painful and ugly. We have lost something. Something good. There is a hole in the world, and no one can make it right.

Continue reading Michael Jackson: Never Can Say Goodbye

Tomorrow When the War Began

May 18, 2009

I was watching ‘My Fair Lady’ when the war ended.

My phone disturbed the enjoyment of the old classic – one I’d grown up watching since the age of at least 5 – with its constant buzzing in of alerts.

Updates. Breaking News. All saying the same thing. Someone’s been killed. The names are different; the triumphant proclamations of death the same. Almost mechanically I forward the texts to my mother downstairs, knowing she’ll probably appreciate them more.

Then the final and most important of them all – the leader, dead, shot. The mass murderer, the simultaneous bearer and destroyer of the hopes of an entire community. The embodiment of one side of this 26 year war. The villain, the psychopath, the almost ghost-like elusive figure of terror. Dead. From ghost to human to carrion.

Strange how the death of one could spell the end of 26 years of terror. Strange, but true.

I read the words and could not comprehend them.

My brain told me to rejoice but the crackers outside only made me jump, uncomfortable in my own skin.

The war was over. Over. Over. Over. No matter how many times I said it over in my head – or even out loud – it just seemed… unbelievable. Unfathomable. This war has been in my life as long as my parents. So strange to think of it that way. Obviously not to compare the two but just to think about the length of time – my lifetime. It started 2 years before I was born. So I have simply lived with it all my life. And over that time 70,000 people have been killed, or so I’ve been told. Who knows the real numbers? Who can quantify it, really? There’s certainly no way to qualify the lives that have been lost, on both sides. At least – I hear myself tell others – at least the death toll stops there.

And what did I feel? Strangely, nothing much. Continue reading Tomorrow When the War Began

The Drummer

There was just something about him. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was, but it was there and it captivated her.

She’d read his words, laughed with him, giggled with him and rolled her eyes at with him. She had sat down at her computer, in a bad mood, angry at the world; in a sad mood, with tears leaking out from under half closed eyes; in a groggy mood, heavy with sleep, her coffee clutched in her hands, and as soon she started reading, she’d start laughing. Every time. Every time.

He wrote about everything. Love, life, his kids, his music, his books, his love for Sri Lanka, poo… His depth of knowledge on this last subject was astonishing. A hand would fly to her mouth in scandalized shock at the intimate details he would divulge about that particular topic and without fail, a stifled guffaw would explode from behind the hand clamped to her lips and her friend sitting next to her at work would smile knowingly.

“Ah, she’s reading RD”.

A furtive look around for patrolling bosses and, if the coast was clear, her friend would scoot over and read with her.

She’d never met this man, but she wanted to. She wondered what it would be like…

…To walk into Barefoot café or another one of his favourite haunts around Colombo, and see him sitting there, at a table, casually dressed, with that good-looking-in-an-old-man-kind-of-way drummer-like look about him.

Her pace would quicken and so would her heartbeat. What would she say?

Hi, most probably. But then what? She frantically searches for the right words – something that would make her seem cool, calm and sophisticated instead of a blathering stalker fan. All she can think of is “OMG you’re blog is like, so TOTALLY COOL and it TOTALLY makes me like, LOL”. God. She can’t say that. That would be like, so totally embarrassing.

As she imagines the scenario, she can almost feel her own faltering footsteps. Each one taking her closer to him.

“Hi” she would blurt, colouring instantly, as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

He’d hear her voice, recognize it somehow, and get up. Turn around in one swift, graceful movement – the kind only Lankan Drummers who live in London can accomplish with such a degree of finesse…

…Stun her with that adorable British accent and say…

“Hi Gyppo”

…and everything would be right with the world.

*     *     *

RD, thank you for every single time you’ve made me laugh with your incredible writing and correspondence. It’s been great getting to know you and your unique brand of Brit/Lankan wit. Excuse this rather awkward tribute to you but it was the best I could do on short notice!

Please keep writing. There are days when some of us depend on you for smiles :)

Happy 3rd Blog Anniversary!