Rajapakse (child)
Growing Up in the City
by ShiraniRajapakse

Climbing the mango tree in my
grandmother’s garden, going up as far

as the fork in the branches,
straddling a low branch I sit with my legs

hanging down from either side
like washing on the line

and gaze at the black cat staring
up at me. Sucking on the mango fallen

on the ground I’d picked up
before I climbed and put inside

my pocket for safety, I slurp through the
sweetness, both hands turned orange-yellow

from squashed fruit pulp. Juice dripping down
bare brown arms spill onto my dress

creating patterns within those already
existing. I lift my arms up one by one and lick

away the dripping juices. Only in childhood
can you get away with things like this when adults

aren’t around to scold away bad manners.
A line of ants scurry along the branch

overhead to someplace else. I stare at them
moving as one, a long live chain, black,

like my aunt’s hair she braids so carefully
before leaving for work every morning. I’d watch

her dress and wonder how it must feel to
be all grown up, with hair as long as

my arms, falling down below my waist, or dress
in saree, volumes of silk wrapped around my

body. Sometimes I pick up her saree
from the clothes rack where she leaves it

to air after returning home.
I’d try to drape it but never quite get

to finish as it’s too long and although I get it
round my waist, pleats and all, I find

I cannot move; trapped in a cocoon
of silk that ties me down at my feet. I smile

at the recollection and swing my legs
up and down. The

mango is eaten to the last, there’s
nothing left on the seed, no longer the taste

of mango but something else, hard
and sour. I throw it down, my eyes

following as it disappears behind
a cluster of thick ferns at the side of the

compound wall. The cat stretches its
limbs and meows from below,

keeping an eye on me as if she’s been told
to babysit today. Climbing down’s

tricky, I guess there’s
a reason cats prefer to climb up and not

down. My palms bruised and my
knees feel sore. The taste of mango long gone

I lean back against the trunk contemplating
the best way to get down.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Glancing through my old photo album I began remembering my childhood and life as it was then. My clearest memories are of playing in my grandmother’s garden under the shade of the big mango tree. That tree is no longer there. Everything has changed. The city has grown and is no longer recognizable. I wrote this poem from the perspective of a grownup looking back at the carefree happy times, not expecting or anticipating the changes or hardships that we would face in the future.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author celebrating her fourth birthday at her grandmother’s house, where her family lived when she was small. The tree trunk at the side is part of the mango tree mentioned in the poem.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ShiraniRajapakse is a Sri Lankan poet and author. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories, Breaking News (VijithaYapa 2011), was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Shirani’s work appears or is forthcoming in Moving Worlds, Citiesplus, Deep Water Literary Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Kitaab, Cyclamens & Swords, Channels, Linnet’s Wings, Spark, Berfrois, Counterpunch, Earthen Lamp Journal, Asian Cha, Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry Review, About Place Journal, Skylight 47, The Smoking Poet, New Verse News,The Occupy Poetry Project and anthologies, Flash Fiction International (Norton 2015), Ballads (Dagda 2014), Short & Sweet (Perera Hussein 2014), Poems for Freedom (River Books 2013), Voices Israel Poetry Anthology 2012, Song of Sahel, Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, World Healing World Peace 2012 & 2014, and Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence.She blogs rather infrequently at http://shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com.