The Umbrellas of Colombo

 (Listen to the poem here)

These girls I see
all day
with their lithe ways
and plaited hair,
all with umbrellas,
black, ungainly ones,
cousins to rusty bicycles—
are they, just them, expecting rain?
But although most are closed
some are already held aloft
against the blazing sky.
There is no common purpose I can see,
except they seem
tools of importance.
Some toy with them
with nervous
eagerness, unsure of
what to do and how to be,
very few,
swing theirs
in broad arcs of effrontery,
some hold them solemnly
like parts of a uniform,
some seem to want to keep
them out of view,
the way one might attempt
to hide a cello or a
team’s supply of
hockey sticks.
All day I watch,
all day I’m lost for thoughts.
I see them suddenly appear
at bus stops everywhere,
or else
in Pettah standing next to bristling
market stalls,
in Cinnamon Gardens stepping out
from underneath magnolia trees,
and at De Soyza Circus,
where the crows go bouncing
around, behind and
in between their steps.
On Duplication Road their numbers swell
and just as instantly they disappear.
It’s when I reach the coast,
upon the Green,
where people stand in lines to chatter
back at the grumbling ocean down below,
that things begin to come together in my mind.
I see three of these girls, with circumspection,
cross the lawn, sidestepping all the huddled families,
sit down and carefully arrange their skirts
and then bring their umbrellas down
level and open straight before their eyes.
A boyfriend slips behind each one.
And then with no change in the sky,
most gently—
it is not a storm, there’s no monsoon—
it sets to raining


(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s