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A Message of the Emergency Broadcasting System

By Gowri Koneswaran

May 18, 2019 marks the ten-year anniversary of the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, which concluded with the government committing war crimes and crimes against humanity and decimating tens of thousands of Tamils. To this day, no member of the security forces or government official has been held accountable. Every year, May 18th is observed as Tamil Genocide Day.

this is a message of the emergency broadcasting system
this is a war on terror

this is a message of the emergency broadcasting system
this is a war of terror

hello my name is Tamil
a minority in america
the second largest ethnic group
in sri lanka

hello my name is Tamil
not a terrorist but in terror
of a country warring, gasping
island of blood,
shape of a teardrop

hello my name is born in the u.s.a.
but if i’d grown in a place
where my name and face
were enough reason to
arrest and detain me
i can’t say what peace
i’d have faith in today

in 1983 what they called riots
we call Black July
pogroms in colombo when
government thugs invaded homes
armed with
papers that read
like voter registration lists

grandfathers butchered in front of their wives
families in cars set aflame by mobs
the city
a funeral pyre

this is a massacre
guilt by ethnic identity
entire villages displaced
detained by a government
that told them
these camps are your country
barbed wire borders until we decide
you won’t fight back

decapitated children dangling from jagged fences
kill them before they learn to fight back

hello my name is heartache
my young cousins in the north
learned to play war instead of house
could identify which bombs would drop
based on the whir of plane engines
and even my Amma
after being trapped for months
but then safely tucked back into america
would startle at the sound of our neighbor’s lawnmower
running inside for cover

this is a war of weapons
but where the bombs fail to drop
a war of words, propaganda of the powerful
a military spokesman says no civilians were harmed
by the army in the attacks

yet the relief workers, reporters, and survivors
who saw the mercilessly deemed “safe zone”
spoke of thousands of Tamils dying by mortar shell

hello my name is
question the government that declares peace
soon after killing thousands of its people
then confining more in internment camps

hello en peyr gowri
from a country warring, gasping
piling up people until they become “bodies”
choked by bloodied jungle vines
roots grasping for a piece of homeland

hello my name is dear Tamil people
in sri lanka
this is a plea for justice and accountability

this is a message of the emergency broadcasting system
we will keep trying to reach you




Listen as Gowri Koneswaran reads
"A Message of the Emergency Broadcasting System."

Added: Tuesday, May 7, 2019  /  Used with permission.
Gowri Koneswaran
Photo by Fid Thompson.

Gowri Koneswaran is a queer Tamil American writer, performing artist, teacher, and lawyer. Her advocacy has addressed animal welfare, environmental protection, the rights of prisoners and the criminally accused in the US, and justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. She is poetry coordinator at the nonprofit arts organization BloomBars and a fellow of the Asian American literary organization Kundiman. Previously, she was a poetry events host at Busboys and Poets, senior poetry editor at Jaggery, and associate editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly.

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