Mothers of the Disappeared

37 lines

Sita passed through fire,

proved her purity in men’s eyes,

sought refuge in the forest with her sons,

then returned to her mother’s embrace.


But Amma-who-was has nothing to save 

Though she still hears black smoke

and feels orange flames, sharp thorns in bare feet

when her sandals broke on the long walk.


Now, eyes burning, 

she walks a sun-hot dusty highway

in borrowed shoes, her gold thali long-lost.

Such a small loss.


Sweat cools her back 

But her ears scream and her vision darkens.

She who bore children

who barefoot walked the jungle. 


She has nothing to prove in men’s eyes.

Nor do these other women, once called Amma,

Who only need to be heard.

Their children returned.


Their grief that men in high places ignore

awakens their own mother Poomathevi below.

Now she sunders.

Small furrow swells into crumbling rift


Across the A9 road.

It grows, but does not swallow them.

Spreads south through mountains, splitting new steel railroad,

ploughing through land and water.


Until far out of sight in a far-off city

her path channeled in broken tarmac through honking trishaws,

crowded buses,

gleaming tourist hotels,


Steps forth Poomathevi, tangled hair and tattered brown sari.

A scent of wet soil and sesame oil.

Nondescript, she could be any Amma.

But she could not stop to embrace her daughters.


Righteous, she steps forth to high places.


Tehnuka is a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. She uses words to make sense of the world, and when it doesn’t make sense, she uses them to make up worlds. When she is not writing, she finds herself up volcanoes, down caves, and in unexpected places – other people, however, can find her on Twitter as @tehnuka.


Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash

Creator Spotlight:


Author of “Mothers of the Disappeared”


What inspired you to write this poem? 

At the end of the Ramayana, Poomathevi offers her daughter Sita, who has suffered injustice, an escape to a more welcoming world. That’s not possible for those whose loved ones were disappeared during a war that left the earth holding mass graves and little comfort. This poem imagines what would happen if Mother Earth could appear to offer them justice in this world.

The civil war in Sri Lanka and its aftermath are themes I often explore through my writing, through my lens as a Jaffna Tamil born and raised overseas. I tend to keep it separate from my speculative fiction though, and it was the Justice theme of this issue of Apparition Lit that prompted me to put them together.

What do you hope readers take from this story/poem? 

Enforced disappearances are only one facet of the morass of injustices associated with internal conflicts. Perhaps we cannot all seek justice like Poomathevi, and what an individual can achieve is up to them and to circumstance. But choosing not to be oblivious is the very least we can do, and I hope readers will make that choice.

To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this poem has been through?

Unusually, this was written and submitted in under an hour, with revisions only when it reached the editors at Apparition Lit. But the ideas in the poem are familiar, and it was written for the theme of the issue. This felt like the right place at the right time (other pieces I’m equally satisfied with are accumulating rejections almost as fast as I can submit them)!

Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.

I’m reading ‘The Rare Metals War’ by Guillaume Pitron (translated into English by Bianca Jacobson), about the role of rare metals in the transition to green energy and the digital age. Despite its Western bias, I’m finding it very informative. A green tech revolution is often cited as the solution to the climate and political crises. The book is about the hidden environmental and social costs – as well as geopolitical implications – of mining, trading, and using, the non-renewable resources essential for that ‘green’ technology. Everything is connected and, sadly, no solution is that simple!

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