Archive for December, 2015

24 December, 2015

Christmas Angel Mother

I’m Buddhist, and grew up that way, but with the lovely influence of other people’s religions pervading my life. A Roman Catholic Convent and a Christian Missionary School, many notations on a prayer book of novenas said at the All Saint’s Church in Borella as well as numerous coconuts split and baskets proffered at Hindu Temples, as well as the invocations to Lord Ganesh when things went missing in life. That is all in addition to the Buddhist temples we visited each Poya day, and the lamps lit at my grandmother’s home each evening, all things that appear and disappear in the books and stories I’ve written as an adult. But my belief in Christmas was something else altogether.

Christmas, was a time to wish the entire galaxy consisting of friends and family SriLanka.08 1037nothing less than a “Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year.” Always these words, always the same way. Nobody joined in the mayhem with as much enthusiasm as my mother, who took me to Missaka Poth Saappuwa (Missaka Book Store), to look through the baskets of cards to buy individually selected cards for each person on my list. My list was longer than the entire family’s combined. Meaning, the people my mother made sure the entire family wished, since my brothers did not buy or send cards, and were routinely bemused to find cards sent to each other signed by themselves when they neither recalled the purchase nor wrote the loving words inside!

Yeah, my list was long. It went from Angeline to Zainab and nobody could be left out. Not Marcel or Majella, Kamani/Kama (the cousins we always mentioned together) or Kumu, not Romola or Romaine, not Aruni or Anusha. Not anybody. I loved finding these cards and sending them and receiving cards in return. My mother, who hardly had much discretionary income, somehow always indulged this madness in me – as she indulged much else that was frivolous in me (love of shoes and clothes, parties, writing, all the things that still lighten the harsher aspects of my personality).

I miss her all year long, every day, many times a day. I wish her back here with me, but I also take comfort in how vividly she endures in my life because I know this is how we all endure in the lives of the people we take care of. I think of all the caring she did for me even as I do that same caring in different ways in this faraway country. I think of her voice when I hear a middle daughter squealing with delight when she hears ‘Whispering Hope,’ a song she associates with her mother, but which I associate with mine. Somewhere in the singing of remembered songs I am both listening to my mother and singing for my daughter, an unimaginably beautiful melding of generations passed on and those yet to come.

And at Christmas, I hear all the familiar songs as though she were here. In the first years of her passing I heard this particular hymn with deep sadness. It hit me hard that the words of this hymn consoled a very real pain, and that her yearning for rescue was heartfelt, a rescue that would also be a taking of leave from me, her daughter, and my non-card-sending brothers, and that all those sentiments somehow reflected poorly on the three of us, but most especially me.

You can’t take any of it back, of course, and it is something I sometimes accept. Mostly, it seems, at Christmas when something of the optimism and happiness that swept over her during this season seems to come unfiltered back to me. On those occasions I hear this version my mother loved so much, and a sweet peace descends on earth momentarily for me too.

11 December, 2015

Ode To a Few Things

It’s been seven months. Rats. But then again, Palestine, Paris, London, Sri Lanka, my college room-mate’s wedding, teaching in Colorado, a book launch and more travel, I’ve been a touch busy. Still, this struck me today, so this is a brief ode to a few things.

First, this: the last rose of summer. Which makes me want to sing in my mother’s voice, a song she loved so well.IMG_20151208_192152

The Last Rose of Summer was written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore in 1805 in Kilkenny, Ireland. It is set to a traditional tune called “Aislean an Oigfear” or “The Young Man’s Dream.” My mother didn’t sing it this high, but she sang it sweetly.

Second, if I am forced to, I can bake. And yes, it may have come out of a box — but honestly, if I’m not ploughing, sowing, and reaping, it’s all out of a box, right? — but it was good. And I used the handy tip, and they came out alright and the house smelled warm and lovely when the door bell rang. And the incredulous laughter at my effort and the result was genuine and I was perfect for an afternoon.

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Finally, this came to an end. It was bought when I was still in college, and a wise landlady had told us that we should not be in a hurry to buy “stuff,” because it would all accumulate to no purpose soon enough. She approved of this purchase, for $5 at a flea market. It has traveled many distances, from apartments to owned homes (though if you’re killing yourself to claim “ownership,” it is good to consider who owns whom, right?) and campsites. It has fed all our friends, everyone in the immediate and extended family more than once, and its delights were appreciated by people in opposite parts of the world. It has been host to fish-based disasters, bacon galore, and thousands of pancakes. It was used by both an older and a younger generation. And now it is done. Goodbye old friend, and goodbye to a time when getting-by was good enough.

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And so, a poem.

Home
— Edgar Albert Guest

It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,
A heap o’ sun an’ shadder, an’ ye sometimes have t’ roam
Afore ye really ’preciate the things ye lef’ behind,
An’ hunger fer ’em somehow, with ’em allus on yer mind.
It don’t make any differunce how rich ye get t’ be,
How much yer chairs an’ tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain’t home t’ ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o’ wrapped round everything.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it;
Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born, and then
Right there ye’ve got t’ bring ‘em up t’ women good, an’ men;
And gradjerly, as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn’t part
With anything they ever used—they’ve grown into yer heart:
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore
Ye hoard; an’ if ye could ye’d keep the thumbmarks on the door.

Ye’ve got t’ weep t’ make it home, ye’ve got t’ sit an’ sigh
An’ watch beside a loved one’s bed, an’ know that Death is nigh;
An’ in the stillness o’ the night t’ see Death’s angel come,
An’ close the eyes o’ her that smiled, an’ leave her sweet voice dumb.
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an’ when yer tears are dried,
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an’ sanctified;
An’ tuggin’ at ye always are the pleasant memories
O’ her that was an’ is no more—ye can’t escape from these.

Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play,
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day;
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun;
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome:
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.

4 December, 2015

Mondoweiss/Center for Fiction Coverage

Philip Weiss, who attended the launch of Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine, at the Center for Fiction, covered the event for Mondoweiss. Here is an excerpt.

“In yet another sign that solidarity with Palestinians is now a central political value of liberal/left American culture, about 150 people jammed a room in the Center for Fiction in Manhattan a week ago to hear authors read from a new book, a literary collection called Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers on Palestine. Below you will see several videos I made of the writers.”

The Center for Fiction released the videos of the event. You can view them at these links:

Part 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMTIwrc5EP4

Part 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8vWvtjvRCE

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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