The bus sweeps past the swinging trees
And the road unwinds long and cloud
The chassis creates with the load
And jots to a by road. (1)
The bus stops for a moment to load
And I see the writing on the halt
A wayside monument etched in gold.
“IN MEMORY OF MY SON” I get a jolt. (2)
The legend goes on, on every bus
Stand a new name every time but
The story’s old “To the hero
Who fell the north erected by
Father, mother and next of kin” (3)
More than a dozen names penetrated my mind.
But I remember the one common to all
“Bandara” master of the soil
Some of those who teased out paddy from this land (4)
They would have ploughed this soil
Gathered the harvest at reaping time
Followed their fathers with the paddy in bins
And sat by the hearth for the new rice
Served steaming and scented by a mother’s fond hands. (5)
While the Koha sang on the reabadu trees
The inscriptions hug the white walls
And the bus swings in and out of halts.
I gaze at the unwinding miles of the road
And try to make the broken images whole (6)
Vague shapes rise undefined infront of me
A farmer in a muddied loin cloth haunts me
And a housewife with billowing sleeves and string of beads
Stare at me out of the unwinding road
And their faces are stern with unshed tears.(7)
‘Monuments’ by is a seven stanza poem which is separated into sets of lines which vary in their length. The poem describes the state of a small Sri Lankan community in the midst of the Civil War. The poem begins with the speaker stating that she is on a bus which is traveling from stop to stop. At each one of these stops she sees a memorial of one kind of another to a lost son. There are so many of these messages the losses become like a “legend.”The next section of the poem speaks on the lives the men could’ve had if they had not been lost in the north. They could have become paddy farmers like their fathers and warmed themselves at the familial hearth. The final lines speak of the endless images which appear to the speaker as she gazes out into the distance. These include the figures of a man and a woman who have suffered greatly in the preceding years. They do not cry, their faces are stern.
The speaker begins this poem by describing the passage of a bus through the landscape. A reader should take note of how the words chosen for this section give off a feeling of movement. There is the “sweep” of the bus and the “swinging” of the trees. The road is seen to be “unwind[ing” in the distance. All of these images combine together to create an off balanced outlook of the landscape.
The fifth stanza expands on the future which could have been for all those memorialized on the sides of buses. Rather than dying they could have “ploughed this soil” and “Gathered the harvest at reaping time.” This type of life would have been much simpler and guaranteed that they live the life their father had hoped. Their lives would have led them to sit at their family hearth, eating the rice which has been “scented by a mother’s fond hands.” It would have been a life full of simple pleasures and familial love.
In the second to last stanza the speaker brings the narrative back to the initial moment in which the bus travels past the “halt” on the road. She describes hearing the sound of a “Koha” singing. This is a reference to a bird of the cuckoo family found throughout Asia. It’s song is coming from “the readadu tree.” The song is occurring in the background of the scene. Her main focus is on the “inscriptions” which hang from “the white walls.” They move in and out of her vision as the bus turns corners and “swings in and out of halts.” In the last two lines of the stanza she speaks of the miles “unwinding” in front of her. Her concepts of what the world was, currently is, and what it is becoming, are playing out in her mind. She is trying to reconcile the images into a “whole.” This is similar to the way one would attempt to make sense of landscape imagery which flashes before one’s eyes while traveling down a road.