16 May 2023

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

Words are of many kinds. That’s stating the obvious, yes. This is about words associated with love. Love-words, then, if you will. Things that need to be said. Things one wants to say. Things that get said and, for whatever the reason may be, get detained at some unnamed barrier in the complex matrix made of heart, mind and vocal cords.

Then there is the immemorial problem of word-inadequacy. In other words, the right word hasn’t been coined yet. Creativity deficiency gets in the way of manufacturing words and even if one puts together word-shards and forges a new word or rearranges syllables and words to translate the heart into voice, there’s still the possibility of being misread, misheard or missed altogether.

There are words, though. Well defined and meaning-locked in dictionaries. Things named and names agreed upon. We see them and we know what they are. We hear their names and we know what is being referred to.

This world, however, is also made of scramble. There is amalgamation and there is scattering. Everything can be brought together and can also be dismantled to constituent parts or smaller pieces. Indeed, sometimes, in this reordering we can come up with something new, fresh and startlingly different.

This I have come to realise:

If we listen carefully enough, if we gaze to the point of discernment and beyond, it seems to me that even approximation is an inadequate word in the matter of naming and description.

This I have come to realise:

There are lines at the perimeter of definition which, when crossed, turns this into that. It is a line, I like to think, that is product of human error or inadequacy and as arbitrary as anything else.

This I have come to realise: Those demarcations are also vantage points.

Vantage is edge, on one side firm ground and on the other a precipice. It is water between solids where slippage is the state of being. It is not an easy place to keep feet firmly planted. Dance, however, is possible there. Indeed, if one doesn’t want to slip on sound and silence, dance one must.

The problem is that we have to depend on the defined and ill-defined. We have to manage at end-points, peripheries and edges. And so we have words and silences. We have words said that can’t be taken back. We have words that have passed use-by date. And silence that works pretty much the same way.

And so the world is made of lost words and lost lines, banished from conversations that did not or will not take place. They wander the earth like fugitives, without license, without passport, constantly under suspicion.  

Where do lost lines go once their authors realise they were meant to be footnoted or ignored, when they realise they were written too late or too early? And from which bibles of love, forgetting, memory or insanity did their authors draw them from? And after they’ve left mind and heart through fingertips and longing, do they recline among fragrant pages of magical books anticipating the perusal of similar dreamers and lunatics? And when someone does turn those pages and perhaps discover the particular word or line that happens to be the perfect transcription of the heart’s unspoken poetry, will it be too early or too late, will it be heard or deemed inconsequential? 

Are lost lines the private properties of the forsaken or hopeful? Are they best preserved in parchment that could crumble at the drop of a tear?

Lost lines

Those things that don't arrive
on demand,
things that stop fingers
and interrupt beautiful stories:
where they went
and where they go
who knows
who will tell?
They may break into words or song
crumble into syllable and dust
creep into conversations
as filler or frill,
but lost lines
return in disguise
alleviate other headaches
fill spaces differently made
Don’t believe,
but flip the question and ask
‘where did those other lines
that came without saying
and wrote themselves almost
where did they come from
which lyrics or love notes
did they escape from?’
All lines are lost
and words are people
looking for the once-familiar
but gone
perhaps forever.
Lost lines are consolation prizes
in competitions no one ever wins. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart