YaliniDream / Safety Zones / Salted Wounds

YaliniDream Artist Statement

I entered Sri Lankan Tamil politics simply by telling my own story and listening to family and community stories.  My earliest childhood memories were of Jaffna (Yalpannam), Sri Lanka—the place after whom I was named.  My bedtime stories were of the struggle of Tamil people.  Of gatherings tear gassed.  Of riots.  And of my parents along with the rest of our community, standing up for our rights.  

When I began telling these stories over fifteen years ago, I felt deep insecurities.  I was not even born in Sri Lanka.  How could I dare to have an opinion?  I had been warned many times that Sri Lankan politics were not only complicated, they were dangerous.  And I certainly didn't have the right to challenge the dominant discourse of Tamil nationalism professed by many of the respected elders in my community.  
I grew up in the diaspora—a feminist and queer contending with the dominant US and UK racial formations-- in environments that were generally oblivious to the concerns of Lankan communities.  However, the beauty of the places I lived-- is that I was exposed to experiences of other people of color and indigenous communities.  I thus began telling my own story within a transnational socio-political context of other people of color and indigenous communities rather than the sole context of Tamil nationalism.  

It was in these spaces that I learned about the histories of various liberation and social justice movements.  Like metal to magnet, I was drawn rapidly by all that connected me to other diasporic peoples—especially communities impacted by violence & war.  Yet, as we began to collide, I also had to face our differences. As intoxicating as the security of similarity was, I had to recognize that same is not synonymous with fair.  Fair is recognizing and working to meet different needs and aspirations, rather than preserving a false sense of connection and equality through assimilation.  

As a Queer Sri Lankan Tamil in the diaspora, the feeling of being connected and yet simultaneously very different from most of my Tamil community deepened these perspectives on solidarity and pluralism.  Strangely enough the same conditions I felt delegitimized my voice, gifted me with the ability to engage a nuanced people-centered politic alternative to Sri Lanka’s dominant twin nationalisms.  Through this engagement I have been able to transform insecurity into responsible humility, carving space to reveal dissenting voices across national borders.

I critique without dismissing; call for both pluralism and solidarity; and reject any movement that holds its peoples hostage or is reliant on fear to fuel its cause.   I seek to dismantle the borders that box bodies, lands, desires, and dreams while I break boundaries between poetry, theater, dance, music, prayer, and activism.  I believe in liberation movements that harness the power and strength that emerges from community empowerment and healing.  In carving space for my own voice, I seek to carve space for others.  

And I belt love songs for the liberation of not just my people but Our Peoples. 


Safety Zones
Flesh rains trees
where the road flooded with
the people seeking safety
was shelled
the thick air and
muddied red soil
is unable to swallow
the mounting bodies
or muffle her scream
as a woman is
herded into a camp
split from her dying husband
trapped in a small room with 30 more cries
fed food that pours out from her faster than the tears.
She bathes under army men’s
open eyes
unable to leave
no visitations
guarded from dignity
imprisoned in “safety.”
A baby is
cradled between craters
left by air strikes
they claimed they never launched.
A young girl tries to fill infant ears
with her strained song,
feed the child
something other than
the smell of decaying flesh.
This should not be the scent of first breaths.
To survive an elder buries herself
with only her face uncovered to respire
the earth her only shield against the shells
that may fall as she attempts to find respite.

The injured strip and tear clothing
to dress exposed tissue and bone,
press sand into rancid wounds.
This they say is the end of terror.
This they say is the end of war.
This they say is victory?
In desperation
the cruel become even crueler.
the monstrous more monstrous.
And each uses the other’s evil to justify their own.

Salted Wounds

July 1983
War was born from
rotting wounds left unkissed
Nobody’s love, just guns & fist
War was born from wounds unkissed
Raised by riot
swaddled by manipulation
nursed by massacre,
War saluted 
Truth’s decaying body
hung from a lamppost--
these nations’ever-half mast flags. 
But in her sleep came visions--
histories passed through dream
of children
running through tall trees
stealing crow eggs
snatching fresh fruit

salt water holding their bodies
soft muscles sailing across waves.
Yet War only knew of
running through lands salted by mines
stealing rice to stall starvation
snatching limbs so they may not burn in enemy pyre
War aches for the flutter
of her first kiss
that she may heal and rest. 
She dreams in salt water tears
of an island in a bloodless sea
of blue ripples teasing a still sky.
War was born from
rotting wounds left unkissed
Nobody’s love, just guns & fist
War was born from wounds unkissed…


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