For our WIT Month 2020 poetry spotlight, we’re proud to present three poems by Thilini N. Liyanaarachchi, as translated from the Sinhalese by Chamini Kulathunga. The poem “To be a Queen is a Sin” questions how history books portray the only female ruler in ancient Sri Lankan history, Queen Anula of Anuradhapura, as being promiscuous while murdering several of her husbands. “Shall We Ask Time to Stop?” explores a daughter’s feelings toward her aging mother. “Inebriated Love,” on the other hand, represents a woman’s admiration for her beloved using metaphors of substance intoxication, a culturally restricted domain for South Asian women.

To be a Queen is a Sin

Venerating the kings with concubines
turning the pages of history books
they laughed at you, saying
“she’s an erotic being”
Could you come back once more
dear queen Anula
to tell us
if you really poisoned
every man you married?

Was it their masculine auspices
that allowed them to be at play?
Was every nameless woman the kings brought
in love with them?
They say being a man is a merit,
was it why copulation only their right?
Was it why they pointed at you?
Was it to erase their sins from history?

In a country like this
being a queen itself is a sin
and once a woman climbs the ladder
she is but a genital that unites with another
I wish I could listen
to all your stories
for it’s you who knows
the truth of them all.


Shall We Ask Time to Stop?

Mother speaks slowly now
breathes tranquilly
hardly ever nags
cooks the same curries
only eats a handful
often lost in thought

shall we stop here
here at this very moment
and ask Time to stop with us
so we can remain
nestled in each other?


Inebriated Love

         You are the last
puff of a Dunhill smoke
the first foaming beer bubble
the nirvana
of inebriation,
the smell
of a half-burnt spliff.

Thilini N. Liyanaarachchi is a contemporary Sri Lankan poet. Her debut poetry collection අප්‍රකාශිත ප්‍රේමය (Unrequited Love as it appears in the collection) was published in March 2020. Her Facebook page “unwritten poem” was one of the first literary pages in Sri Lanka to reach 100,000 followers. Liyanaarachchi’s poetry often brings into focus a range of topics from human connections to historical female figures to cultural restrictions from a female point of view. The selection of poems handpicked for this submission is representative of these topics.

Chamini Kulathunga is a Sri Lankan translator. She is a graduate of the Iowa Translation Workshop and was a 2019 Summer Visiting Fellow at Cornell University’s South Asia. Chamini was also the former blog editor and a staff editor at Exchanges: Journal of Literary Translation and is Asymptote’s current Editor-at-Large for Sri Lanka. Her work has appeared in World Literature Today, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, Exchanges, DoubleSpeak, Bengaluru Review, and elsewhere.

Video art by Jin Kim

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