3 July 2013


Unawatuna - December 2004

Submerged in sleep
Beneath the deep
My brain was sorting images
Words and hopes
And might have beens
The very stuff of human dreams

Then silence shook
Drew me to the light
A spiralling fish
Emerging from the night
And looking out across the bay
Saw something wasn’t right that day

Bare rocks exposed
A streak of white
Underscoring southern sky
Then hardly knowing why
I race
To my parents’ house.
Back along the track
That leads to Rumassala and Jungle Beach

And when I reach
The brown familiar door
The stillness of the morning
Becomes a distant roar
Screams and yells
And horns and bells
Alarms give warning.

Mother, my ammā, could always read my face
I grab her arm
Carry her swiftly to a higher place
Like the babe that once was me
She clings
And now the very earth is grumbling
Mindless saltwater juggernaut rumbling
I turn in slow motion
Back towards the ocean
And see the first great wave
It brings
Debris and promises of death

I can’t get there
I can’t get home
To Tāttā - my father .
He was still getting up
“What is it son?”
“You have to run!”
I cling to the old bo tree
Thinking of him…
Of how things used to be.

And when the water retreats
I scramble down
Wade back
Shoulder the door
“Tāttā! Tāttā!”
Find him floating
Face down in the kitchen
“Tāttā! Tāttā!”
And I cradle him
There in the flood
But his lips are grey.
I can do no good...

...Years have passed like tides
I tout for business on the beach now
Diving trip or speedboat rides?
Yet all this time cannot conceal
The horror or the pain I feel
Of a morning when the ocean blue
Ripped apart the world I knew

When sleep envelops me
I sink to a deep, dark place
Where there is no forgetting,
Forgiveness or amazing grace
Apparitions of life uprooted
And that thundersome wave
Once more unmuted.


  1. Sir YP, is this your poem about the Tsunami of 2004? Or did you visit Unawatuna after the tsunami?

    I still remember that Christmas. We were on holidays on Magnetic Island and were horrified. My sister and I were just talking about it again over the weekend because she had seen the film The Impossible and said it was very good.

  2. CAROL IN CHAINS Shirley and I visited Unawatuna at Eastertime this year. On the beach, a local sea trip hustler told us his heart-rending story and wept. I'm not really into hugging men but I hugged him all the same and I remembered his story almost word for word. I used it as the basis for the poem and may I say that some of the awkwardness with rhymes was intentional. After all, an entirely fluent, polished poem would surely seem odd coming as it seems to do from an ill-educated - yet very charming Sri Lankan villager.

  3. Sir YP, I bow down to you. You are certainly the master of the word. I think in time you should be publishing your own Anthology. I can only imagine the grief in that poor man's heart. You have done justice to his story.

  4. It is eloquent! I read it yesterday and then again today. It makes me sad and that is as it should be.

  5. We stayed in a hotel in Koh Lak, that had named rooms after the staff that had worked tirelessly to save lives.

    To hear their stories was truly horrifying. Looking at the gentle sea as they spoke, we could hardly imagine the horror.

    I LOVE the poem.


  6. DAVID AND LETTICE Thank you for your responses. It pleases me enormously that my poem connected with you... and Lettice - yes it was odd for Shirley and I in Unawatuna too. Indian Ocean lapping a golden shore. Palm trees and curry with rice. Bottles of Lion lager. Hard to think of the great wave and the people who died there in 2004 - including Xmas tourists.

  7. I can't say that I enjoyed the poem but it was moving.


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