Read time: 3 mins

Tunnel & (Non)happening

by Upekala Bhagyanie Athukorala
20 May 2021

Translated from Sinhala to English by Vivimarie VanderPoorten

Translator’s note

Sinhala is a diglossic language while English is not, so one of the challenges for me as a translator was to convey the meaning of fairly high-level Sinhala poetic diction in relatively simple English. I prioritised the transfer of imagery, because for me, when writing original poetry, that has been the key in my work. I also tried to write the translated poems in my own voice, while remaining faithful to the gist of what the original poems were saying. I essentially heard a woman’s voice in Upekala’s poetry. While syntax and diction helped me understand the original, I paid more attention to sound and metaphor and the original poems’ sense of irony because the strength of the kind of poetry I like lies there. While the translations do not rhyme, there was some need to interpret the sound effects of the original. To a large extent, empathy for the speaker/persona of the poems helped me to ‘get into’ the work. I also told myself that although it has been said that it is impossible to translate poetry, I need to attempt to translate poetry from one of my mother tongues to the other. It was not two different cultures here but one culture, one person with two tongues. 



Scarred by battle you

fled from your fallen city

and arrived randomly in a land full of

lightness and mirth

where poems were composed and floated

on the breeze

You opened the doors and entered

this city begging for your life to be saved

and yet offering hope of life

Asking no questions about your journey

I let you sleep a deep sleep

You who came beaten, lashed unconscious

from a burned down city

Sadly in trying to soothe your burns

it is I who got burned

I did not dig deep to look for the skulls of your past

nor did I try to unravel

the tangle of your memories

Instead, I nursed your bruises and sucked out

the poison of your pain

Making you comfortable I sang you to sleep

but it is from where you rested that you began

to dig a new tunnel

What does it matter whether you brought

something with you or not

You gave my life hope but it was all a lie

the day I heard the echo of emptiness

from where you lay

That was the day I let you go

I open the tunnel door and set you free

I remind myself that there are journeys

from which there is no return

You gave me nothing to remember you by

That is why I too,

give you nothing to take with you


In the dark blind night

when the world is asleep

does the sky weep

when the moon falls into the heart’s lake

The fragrant Bakini flowers

that sway gently in the wind

lean towards the lake’s face

kissing a lotus every now and then:

Will they ever leave their tree

to bloom in the water

Bees fly fast to the flower’s pollen

to carefully dip their tongue

to gently suck the sweet nectar

Would they be as quick to

build a hive

The raft that moves from one bank to another

cutting through the water;

On its many journeys will it even once

listen with its heart

to the voice of the river?

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Illustration by Erica Eng

About the Author

Upekala Bhagyanie Athukorala

Upekala Bhagyanie Athukorala is currently a teacher at a government school in the Western Province, Sri Lanka. Since her school days, her poems have appeared in the local newspapers. Her debut poetry collection, Paratharaya (Distance), was published in 2012, her second book, Sankranthiyaka Sanakeli (Carnival of Transition), in 2015, and her third collection, Irthu aga Shesha path (Remnants of the Seasons), in […]