28 June, 2022


An Old Man Sits Under A Tree

By Basil Fernando

Basil Fernando

An old man sits under the shade of a tree

On the slab of a grave.

He is no sage

Running away from world,

He was the grave digger.

Now in retirement,

Returning to his familiar world.

The only interludes are the night visits

Back home for his drink, dinner and sleep.

In his dreams he moves into the underworld

Of Hades, Lucifer or Yama,

Sometimes sees the faces of those

He buried.


Cemetery is place of ceremonies

Of emotions, a powerful world,

Where love is dramatized

And people become real.

Tears, loud cries, explosive words,

Flowers and candles, trying to express

Language of the heart.

Unforgettable cries of mothers

When the young are buried,

Children saying goodbye

to their mothers and fathers,

A place where intellect is silent

Or confused.


Then there are unusual times

When men in uniform

Come with gallons of illicit liquor,

And loads of wounded dead bodies.

Preparing rapid fires

In the dead of the night,

To bury all the secrets,

As uniformed men

Guards the gates.

As the days go by,

Visiters come,

Asking many questions.


Between heaven, hell and earth

With Angels, devils and spirits

Sits this old man

His minds confused with facts

Fabrications and fantasies,

Images of thousands of faces,

Confused about fate, faith

Truth, justice and despair,

Hypocrisy, disorder and fear

And tales of a thousand varieties

Crowding in his mind.


He knows more than historians,

Reporters, journalists

Judges or jurors

In the images that appear,

Disappear and reappear

In this mind

Are the truths

World does not wish

To know.


I then photographed beauty


Who are you?

I asked a bird

Posing  for a photograph.

I am beauty,

The bird told me.

Are you from heaven

Or earth?

I asked  the bird.

I have wings and feet,

I eat and sing,

The bird told me.

Are you an angel?

I asked.

No, the angels

Were modeled after me,

The bird replied.

I then photographed,


*Basil Fernando published his first volume of poems A New Era to Emerge in 1972. Since then, he has published several volumes of poems in English and two collections in Sinhala. His poems have appeared in several Sri Lankan and international anthologies. His poems have been translated into many Western and Asian languages. A translated anthology of his poems was published in Malayalam entitled Sundaramaithry. In 1983, he and Richard Zoysa shared the first prize for poetry in New Ceylon Writings, published by Professor Yasmin Gunaratne. 

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Latest comments

  • 0

    These all are happening in Sri Lanka because there is no human value

  • 0

    unlike the moral imperative of “thou shalt” the hallmark of western culture, poetry only offers understanding – just plain sight

    does this change of style indicate that =Basil has changed ??

    would like to hear about that

  • 0

    The old man, the photographer and the bird

    After the picture was taken
    the bird flew away and
    the photographer went home.
    A week later the bird was
    having its morning coffee and
    reading the newspaper. The bird
    got mad seeing its picture accompanied
    by a bad poem penned by the photographer.

    It flew immediately to the cemetery
    and found the old man sitting on
    a grave. The bird paid the old man
    to dig a grave before the sun
    went down. The bird then called the
    photographer and told him to come
    to the cemetery at midnight. Surprised
    the photographer asked why. The
    bird said, “Your photograph was so
    pretty. I want you to take another
    one at a more beautiful surrounding.”
    The photographer asked, “Yes, but
    why at such a dreadful place at such an
    ungodly hour?” The bird replied, “Where can
    you find a more sweet spot than the
    cemetery at midnight when the moonlight
    casts its soft light on an open grave?”
    The photographer couldn’t agree more.

    Just before midnight the bird flew
    to the cemetery and into the open grave.
    The photographer showed up at the
    appointed hour and not seeing the bird,
    called out. The bird shouted back, “I’m here,
    come down into the open grave and take
    my picture.” The photographer heard the bird
    and soon finding the open grave, descended
    into it. But he couldn’t find the bird. Instead
    he saw a ………….. His eerie scream
    could be heard for miles in the night.

    Next morning the bird while having its coffee
    read the news about a death in the cemetery.

  • 0

    thanks dear basil for one of the best poems ever written by you.
    . the line “sometimes sees the faces of those he buried” haunts me.
    it is a new way of reading history by taking photographs of the dead in their last moment on earth
    with the lens of the live eye.
    with the lens of compassion and protest.

    let there be more and more of such magnificent pieces.

    K.G.Sankara Pillai

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