13 August 2023

Autumn Leaves Safeness

This year in the Northern Hemisphere the autumnal equinox falls on the 23rd of September. That would be the first day of Autumn, but in the USA they would say ‘Fall.’ The Fall, quite in contrast to the Biblical allusion of innocence-loss and all associated negativity, is beautiful. Before the leaves actually fall, they perform an almost ritualistic dance of color transformation.  

Fall is still a few weeks away, but in Ithaca, New York, ‘Autumn Leaves’ is an all-year thing.  I remember the used books store ‘Autumn Leave’ from over 20 years ago. This afternoon, I found that it has shifted to the opposite side of the Ithaca Commons.

Pete Meyers, a friend from way back in the year 2000 and the founder of the Tompkins County Workers’ Centre which has helped secure millions of dollars in wage theft judgments against employers that fail to pay overtime, don’t way workers for their hours or pay below the minimum wage, and who needs to be written about separately (and will be written about, I promise), told me that 'Autumn Leaves' was now owned by PM Press, which I learned is a small independent book publisher specialising in radical literature. Angry Mom Records occupies the second floor. It’s a partnership that carries the Ithacan signature of goodness I fell in love with in another century.

This is not about books or music. It is about ‘being.’ Amazed as I was by the cultural architecture of the place, what first caught my eye and held it was a simple sign. This is how it read:

ALL races
ALL Religions
ALL Countries of origin
ALL Genders
ALL Sexual orientations
ALL Abilities

It is easy to advocate. It is hard to exemplify the advocacy. If is easy to profess love for one and all. It is hard to love. Word is easy. Deed is not. There are signs and there is that which is signified.

I spent a few hours in Ithaca today. I had spent around four years in Ithaca a long time ago. Safety wasn’t something I thought of. There were moments I did feel unsafe but then again I still felt protected. And I remembered that other time of beautiful people who came together to publish a newspaper and a community that empowered them all with love.

I mentioned that time and some of those people, not all, in an article I wrote over 10 years ago:

‘I remember a day in early June 2000, just before I left Ithaca. Ayca Cubukcu and I were attending the memorial service of Jean Finley, a long-time and indefatigable activist who produced hundreds of shows for the local cable station, even though chronic kidney disease had condemned her to a wheelchair. She went about in this wheelchair, attending protests, distributing leaflets and keeping people cheerful.  That day, at the memorial service, a young man came on stage to speak a few words. He said he needed someone to hold his hand. The young man was in a wheelchair. I only remember one thing he said: “Jean made it ok for people like me.” And he wept.’

We did too. We dedicated the next issue of that newspaper, ‘The Cobbler’ to Jean. It had Jean’s portrait as cover with a simple headline: ‘For Jean’. In the said article I mentioned some names: Ayca, Maceo, Michael, Balam, Mutaamba, Carson and Molly. Chad, Raj, Dia, Lehlohonolo, Andrea, Mecke, Gerard, Joaquin, Andrew and Aaron, Katie and Neil Golder, Paul Glover and the extended Grady family. I didn't mention Pete, for I had met him only briefly, although we connected when we went to a demonstration in Washington DC together and have kept in touch off and on since. Pete keeps people safe. That's what his life is all about.

I remembered all of them today as I strolled through Ithaca Commons and realised that each of them, without exception, stood with each other and many others as well. Each of them made people feel, ‘I am safe here.’

Autum Leaves safeness, that’s what it was back then. Only, it didn’t have a name. It didn’t need one. 


['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 194th article in the new series. Links to previous articles are given below] 

Other articles in this series: 

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

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
The allegory of the slow road