Young lass you are my Spring bloom I am yours, your yellowish groom Awakened amidst many morning chirps Bend I so down your sweet touch seek Yellow, my sunshine, you are my flower Heard they chirp and found my lover Tall your cheek lie jump I higher Bend my sweet low kissing my hair - “Yellow Lover” Hey! Village lass The bunch of water lilies In your hand and The one on your hair Whisper me The story of your beauty And the beauty of Your soul That was brightly Illuminated by Your soulmate - “Waterlily”
In her collection of 37 poems, Water Lily (Queen of Sea Publishers, 2021), Jasmine Jayasekara locates her work according to a range of themes – conventional to anthologies – such as “Family”, “Pain”, “Nature”, “Countryside”, “Love” and so on. However, rendering such classifications futile and redundant, the anxieties, emotions, and thoughts expressed in Jayasekara’s poems often permeate the walls of such boundaries. As a result, the better love poems in the collection are found under the theme/class “Nature”, while, in different shades and shapes, love is also found in categories such as “Family”, “Pain”, and “Farewell”, as well. The two poems I have quoted above, as a frontispiece, are both from the “Nature” category.
In Water Lily, Jayasekara injects her poetry with a rich pastoral echo seemingly inspired by English Romantic poetry. Textbook-features of this pastoral tradition such as happy and contented rural households, caring domestic relationships, domestic grooming, and romanticized landscapes are abundantly found in all sections of the poems; and sometimes at the risk of being found clichéd, as well. Jayasekara further demonstrates her anxiety (if not influence) of the Romantics in arrangements such as
Good morning swan, Good morning lass. I hear you both, Every morn worth. (41)
Hey! Village lass The bunch of water lilies In your hand and The one on your hair Whisper me (28)
which breed Romantic nostalgia.
In the pastoral vein, Jayasekara’s “family poems” characterize a girl’s secure childhood spent in a caring domestic overseen by an extended family network of two generations. This space of unwavering and unconditional love is expressed through poems such as “Father”, “Grandmother”, “The Gift”, and “New Eyes” that set the tone for the collection. This tone immediately contrasts with the next batch of poems, titled “Pain”.
The pain that interests Jayasekara originates emotionally, and from – or as a response to – the breakdown of a relationship. This section presents memorable stanzas such as the following found in the poem “Ripped Heart”, which shows refinement in craft and sentiment,
Beautiful love song whispering full moon Smiled amid black stain spilling My light doesn’t bring sunshine at noon Yet I burn no heart sweet and chilling (21)
while, the following, from “Mother”, distracts the reader by what, in linguistic terms, reads as the poem’s colloquial preoccupation; unless, its compositional unrefinement:
There was a tiger mom In a far dark wood She had a cub girl beautiful and sweet This little girl had enormous affection Tiger mom was thrilled she felt very loved They went inside found some more food Came back so late hugging they went to bed Happy and so warm was their dark den… This little cub girl swelled with big bosom Has she bloomed now her petals of youth One huge tiger lad sniffed the fragrance Of the female youth and the womanish beauty Slowly but steadily stole her heart (22)
Colloquial syntax notwithstanding, the poem underlines a certain force and untutored flow of emotion and physical expression. The choice of a tiger for imagery (again, not an alien image within the Romantic tradition), perhaps, intensifies the rustic and natural sensation Jayasekara desires to immerse herself in. Turbulent emotions – which often borderline the traumatic – are further enforced in sections of poems such as “The unloved lover”.
The poems under the category “Love” rides on a sequence of union and separation, a continuation of life through new births, and motherhood at the end of a long wait: the latter, an event that Jayasekara likens to a “reward” (46). In “Flame in Ice”, the poet attempts to characterize a relationship begun with the admission of a “lost soul” to one’s life, which terminates in heartbreak (44). While the poem ambitiously strings together a complex sequence of events awkward and skewed use of imagery unseams the poem from communicating effectively:
Collecting pieces Mended this heart Like a carpenter Collecting wood To make good furniture… … Lost soul with broken heart Solitary blossom with maimed bee Made such a blessed match
The furniture-manufacturing carpenter and the image of a “maimed bee”, perhaps, could have benefited from refined poetry.
In “Birth” – a poem that describes childbirth – the narrative opens with a reference to the new born whose gums are presented (it is implied) as being sweeter than roses:
It was twilight darkness staggered Dawn of new life showered rays of light sweetness spilled soft shrieks lingered Toothless pink gums defeated roses. (45)
As the poem develops, changes the childbirth brings on the domestic space are given focus. However, similar to “Flame In Ice”, skewed imagery and idiom (which I have underlined for emphasis) undermine the intensity of the poem’s intended expression:
Love birds flew away, love song mended Little breast swelled now blood turned snow Lullabies hanged in the air of love palace King kissed queen’s head paying his gratitude This little duckling sought new meaning Pampering little chick, her heart melted Love juice so yummy quenched thirst of tummy Birth of such wealth gold gift of heaven. (45)
As noted in the outset, some of the “nature poems” in Water Lily read as better love poems, crafted with care and refinement. In places, the poet’s attempt to subscribe to a rhyme-scheme comes across as stifling. That notwithstanding, poems such as “Yellow Lover” and “Pink Petals” are rich and satisfactory:
Young lass you are my Spring bloom I am yours, your yellowish groom Awakened amidst many morning chirps Bend I so down your sweet touch seek Yellow, my sunshine, you are my flower Heard they chirp and found my lover Tall your cheek lie jump I higher Bend my sweet low kissing my hair... (27) ... Pink petals Lie naked Yearning soles so pink To flower Their heads Golden waves Of her hair Tossing here and there Whisper “no” To the flirting pink Floating in the wind Speeding pace With floral silk Up in the air Walks she there With burning bosom To bury her hair Under his arms so fair (29).
Jayasekara’s expression of desire frequently relies on tactile sensations – often fleeting and momentary experiences which are caught at/as a glimpse – which include a series where the caressing or kissing of feet and soles are prominent (refer, also, the reference to “pink petals” that yearn for “soles so pink”, above). In this regard, the concluding stanza of “Night” is provocative as it is memorable:
Moonlight peeps like a lover Into your hut Not to kiss your feet But to blind your eyes And caress your arms That ached with cruel whips Of the burning rays. (30)
The defining feature of Jayasekara’s expressions of love in Water Lily is the transience and restlessness she attributes to them. Where love is concerned, relationships, states of mind, intrigues, and consummations are, at best, seen as transits in a continuum of human experience. Love is hardly ever glorified or fetishized. The romance that draws and separates is identified for its intrigue and play. The dictum of Jayasekara’s treatment of love is found in the category “Farewell”, where the poem “Goodbye!” reflects as follows:
You, a Summer visitor Know nothing about The pain Dumb walls bear And the emptiness Surrounded by them ‘Goodbye’ – The word of gratitude Repays the cups of tea You sipped And the bread you Swallowed Goodbye! (66)
Jayasekara, Jasmine. Water Lily. Queen of the Sea Publishers, 2021.