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The River of Stolen Words

by Ramya Jirasinghe
27 June 2022

We didn’t know that’s what they were doing  

When they first took our words 

From the toddlers’ mouths,  

Replacing babbles and songs  

That our grandmothers sang to us 

With songs of willows and daffodils that  

We would never see swaying, fluttering on the  

Banks of riverbeds here in the drought 

Where only dry roots come out of the ground  

In the beginning of April. 


We didn’t know that words are not taken away overnight.  

They left stolen words on 

The dry bed of the river until the rains returned.  

Until the monsoon river flooded. 

Until we, ourselves, could be trusted  

To be the dhobis they wouldn’t be. 

That we could be trusted was a certainty. 

We never suspected that we would  

Unleash our own torrents of water, the spill, 

The flood, the tide.  

That we would be good  

At releasing onto the banks of our own land 

A water laden with poison, heavy with  

The debris of another’s psyche  

To leave behind residents stunned 

By the horrors they saw but had no 

Words that they could use to call them out. 


We didn’t know that we would be so  

Good at stealing from ourselves 

The words that hold a people together. 

Not the vile language of the politician, 

The rhetoric of the mob leader, spewing oil on  

The river’s back to carry flames into the 

Dry wood villages – history’s tinderboxes. 

We have ourselves been the thieves of all 

That could sustain us, that, flowing in our blood, 

Could nourish fields of breathtaking beauty 

With flowers of our land, large, lustrous, and scented, 

Humming, singing, the songs of our world. 

About the Author

Ramya Jirasinghe

Ramya Jirasinghe is an award-winning poet, fiction and non-fiction writer from Sri Lanka. She is the author of There’s an Island in the Bone, which won the Sri Lanka State Literary Joint-Award in 2011, Rhythm of the Sea, Trinity, When Life Touches Life and Love Poems from a Frangipani Garden. Ramya was longlisted for the Fish […]