Auschwitz from Colombo

Colombo. March. The city white fire
That pours through vehement trees burst into flame,
And only a faint but nearing wind
Stirring the dust
From relics of foreign invaders, thrown

On this far littoral by chance or greed,
Their stray memorial the odd word mispronounced,
A book of laws,
A pile of stones
Or may be some vile deed.

Once there was another city, but there
It was cold - the trees leafless
And already thin ice on the lake.

It was that winter
Snow hard upon the early morning street
And frost flowers carved in hostile window panes -
It was that winter.

Yet only yesterday
Half a world away and twenty-five years later
I learn of the narrow corridor
And at the end a hole, four feet by four
Through which they pushed them all - the children too
Straight down a shaft of steel thirteen feet long
And dark and icy cold
Onto the concrete floor of what they called
The strangling room. Dear God, the strangling room,

Where they were stunned - the children too -
By heavy wooden mallets,
Garroted, and then impaled
On pointed iron hooks.

I am glad of the un-echoing street
Burnt white in the heat of many tropical years,
For the mind, no longer sharp,
Seared by the tropical sun
Skims over the surface of things
Like the wind
That stirs but slightly the ancient dust.


Anne Ranasinghe | 'Against eternity and darkness'
Image: 'Transparent Shadows' - Oil paint on double layered transparent nylon | Hester van Dapperen (2004) 

© English Writers Cooperative of Sri Lanka | 2000

Anne Ranasinghe, born in Essen, Germany, as Anneliese Katz was thirteen years old when her Jewish parents decided to sent her to England as Nazi's rose into power in 1939. But five years later, they were murdered in Chelmno, Poland by the Nazi regime. In England, Anne married a Sri Lankan professor and became a citizen of Sri Lanka in 1956. The Holocaust is a recurring theme in Anne Ranasinghe's poetry and is contrasted with Sri Lanka's violent past as in "July 1983."


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