Mullaittivu, Sri Lanka 1986



“…women were strongly recommended to participate as combatants in the Tamil movement in order to make up manpower shortage; and they were provided with systematic military training-weapon technology, suicide bombing, combat, for instance.”
    -from “Women in the LTTE: Birds of Freedom or Cogs in the Wheel”

One gunshot, the ground
now studded with glass. 
A tuft of smoke, the whiff
of sulfur, replaces a bottle. 
Very good, Sothia-akka whispers. 
Why then is this pistol
so heavy in my hands?

Nelli Cordial turns the clay    
the color of dried blood. 
A glint, a wince, as if my bullet
caught the berm off guard. 

Sothia-akka places one palm
under my wrists, braces
my trembling arms. 
Her other she rests
over my chest, fingers
splayed as if measuring
the span of my heart. 
Truly, truly, thangachi, do not
worry. A bottle is much harder
 to hit than a man.

Note: Nelli Cordial is a type of soft drink. During the civil war, it was sold only in the north of Sri Lanka.


After a Pipe bomb Explosion, the Most Serious Injuries May Not Be Visible



causes the most damage
to gas-filled structures
within the human body. 
The tympanic membrane, 
consisting of keratin,
elastin, collagen,     
80 micrometers thick, may
rupture. Globe (eye ball) 
rupture. The sclera, 
not typically fragile, but
white and thick, splits open. 
The eye socket fills with blood, 
dark and viscous like etching ink. 
Blast lung results from
spallation and
implosion. Spallation
from Middle English spald, 
to split open. Blast waves
may perforate
the intestines and lacerate
the bowel. Fatal injury
can be sustained
in the absence
of other trauma. 
The front page features
a dying boy whose nose
and jaw are missing. But,
most of us, will never see
the ways in which
we’ve been destroyed.


My sister forwards a link: Nearly Detonated Atomic Bomb Over Goldsboro, North Carolina – Secret Document




How different our lives would be if the bomb went off and mommy and thaththa stayed in Sri Lanka instead of moving us to Goldsboro.

I click and an image appears
of a mushroom cloud,  
and a movie still
of Slim Pickens balancing
on a missile, and, at first, 
I think, this is a joke—
as is the name Slim Pickens— 
and, then, I grasp this is    
an actual headline,
in a foreign newspaper. 
I can’t help but wonder:

What if, in 1969, 
we were lied to?

What if the B-52 had
yawed and stalled,
one wing-flap jammed,
as the pilot, a soldier,
terrified, realizes
he can no longer see the horizon,
has lost all sense of direction,
has to swallow back the bile
as the ground spirals beneath him?
He hears only the death drum
and the roar
of the vacuum, forces
himself to remember
his training: push control
forward, jam right rudder
pedal with foot. Don’t fight
the spin.

So consumed is he, 
he doesn’t notice
that the hatch has opened,
and his cargo has fallen.
What if not just three but all four
safety mechanisms fail
when that MK 39 Mod 2  
hits the clay caked earth
of Ol’ Big Daddy Road?

That secret explosion
would explain why
my family remains
stateless, suspended, 
arms and legs flailing,
lips contorting to form
the eternal ‘o.’ This would

explain why we’re
caught in chronic hysteresis,
in other words a time loop,

always going, never leaving, 
never arriving, never staying,

in Goldsboro, 
or anywhere.



Hasanthika Sirisena's work has appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Construction Magazine, Narrative, Epoch and other magazines.