Author Archives: onpapercuts

About onpapercuts

I'm a Sri Lankan New Yorker currently living in DC. I write short stories, prose poetry, and most recently, flash autofiction. When I'm not writing, I teach creative writing to kids and young adults, and consult on immigrant justice communications. Find me on Twitter @onpapercuts.

On family & fracture: second prose poem

“Here are the sheets pulled flat on the bed we all share, vertical stripes, thin and thick, orange, yellow, orange, yellow.”

This is a picture of my newborn with his father. My latest prose poem Baby Picture in the new issue of Platypus Press’ Wildness, is based on — you guessed it — a baby picture. I wrote this last year before I was pregnant. It is about the distance between my father and me, which is a spot on my heart too sore for me to say more about here. It is surreal to have this piece published so soon after giving birth to my first child — a child who has my face; a face I inherited from my father. My child’s relationship with his father will be very different from the one I have with mine. The long tides between families, circles broken and unbroken through time, are always on my mind but hard to write about. This piece is the closest I’ve come yet. I hope you like it.

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On truth or something like it: two new publications

kidding-kidding-jellyfish-review-di-jayawickrema

My latest flash, “Kidding, Kidding” and “Plucking Away” up at the lovely Jellyfish Review are my first (self-acknowledged) creative nonfiction-ish pubs. All my recent work is mined from my life and I used to spend a lot of time negotiating the boundaries between fiction, non-fiction, and poetry before submitting, but life and art feel too variable to worry about this anymore. I’ll say these two pieces are close to my real biography, and it is simultaneously easy and uncomfortable to see this work published. I’ve pushed myself to be more explicit in my recent pieces, and I can’t tell if the discomfort stems from “the mortifying ordeal of being known,” or if my implicit writing really is more porous, holds more space for many truths.

Maybe it’s only needless self-deprecation to say the truths of these pieces don’t feel as truthy because they are so fixed. (I know I’m really selling these publications.) Continue reading

On family & fracture: third orange prose poem

cactus di jayawickrema matchbook lit

III.

“My eyes are shut, the insides of my eyelids are orange in the light streaming through. I’ve come to believe orange is the color of vast, unbroken love.”

My latest hybrid/prose poem, Cactus, now up at matchbook, is to my mind, the third in my loose series of “orange prose poems” as the rest of the piece troubles the opening quoted above as well as the series’ theme of family and unbrokenness.

I almost didn’t publish this piece. It’s my first explicit “personal as political” publication, and I tied myself into knots writing, editing, and submitting it. I felt guilty exposing my mother’s history, my husband’s family history, which may not be mine to interpret. I felt guilty about not explicitly naming the harms I dance around. Among other things, the piece is about guilt as a stalling act. Continue reading

On family & fracture: first orange prose poem

I.

“Let’s say the wrapper was orange-yellow — the color of sunset on Galle Face Beach where you took me every Sunday, the color of the hibiscus growing by the tall iron gate of the last home I lived in with you.”

My favorite part of writing is learning the meaning of a piece on the long road between drafting and publication. This is partly why I hold onto pieces for awhile before submission. I wrote my latest prose poem, Let’s Say Your Arm is Long now up at Pithead Chapel, last summer. It is about my grandfather who died when I was five. My few memories of him are likely false ones. didn’t know at the time that I was writing this piece to comfort myself but it has become a comfort: a sort of lullaby to myself; an elegy to him. Through it, I’ve come to know that mourning can be a way of continuing love, that your body remembers love your mind doesn’t. I realized writing this piece in the subjunctive mood made it possible to build a frame around a loss I couldn’t otherwise grasp. Continue reading

On fog or cloud: new publication

entropy di jayawickrema fog or a cloud hybrid microsI didn’t think this loose hybrid micro series would find a home. The pieces felt too small, some too strange and some too colloquial, and all disconnected even though I knew the pieces were connected in a way I couldn’t articulate. I’m gratified and relieved it found a home in Entropy Magazine’s “Fog or a Cloud” series inspired by this quote from Etel Adnan: “… [images] they are pure feeling. They’re like something that calls you through a fog or a cloud.” The editor, Morgaine Baumann writes of the series: “What do you, or we, rely on our memories for? When, or are, memories accurate representations of the past? Does it matter? A little more specifically, I’m thinking, can memories be passed down genetically? Emotional/ physical traces carried from one generation to another, ultimately showing up in our writing? How can this be shown through syntax? In image? If through image, then are the images by extension also what’s being passed down?”

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On (in)completeness: new publication

3 Micro-stories by Di Jayawickrema Burning House Press

Photo Credit: Simon Abrams, Unspash

Probably, a day will come when I don’t announce every new publication with a mini-essay on process but today isn’t that day. I’m proud and grateful to have my first microfiction appear in a press I just learned of and already love: 3 Micro-stories by Di Jayawickrema in Burning House Press.

There were eight years between my first publication and my second. I spent that period contending with the immigration system, and the process changed me in ways I still don’t fully understand. I didn’t write a creative word in those eight years. I do some community-based work around immigration now — in my view, immigration is a death spectrum — from actual death to death by countless cuts if you’re lucky, and I was lucky. It isn’t a coincidence that I only started writing again when I got my green card.

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On holding on too long: new publication

It’s a strange feeling to publish out of step with yourself. “All Surfaces Lose Their Tension” over at Marias At Sampaguitas is my second published flash-ish piece. I drafted it years ago, before I knew what flash was. The piece was my response to a writing group prompt to “describe a kiss.” When I thought of a kiss, all I could see in my mind was an image of a meniscus — the curve of water on the surface of a cup.

Like my first published prose poem “We Know the World with Our Bodies,” it is about a raceless, faceless couple passing each other by. In the past two years of learning to write flash, I’ve edited the piece on-and-off with the generous help of readers and other writers. I learned a lot about language and my obsessions in the process, but really, the piece was as done as it was ever going to be years ago.

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On finding a new form: new publication

Three years ago, I wrote a thing that wasn’t a story and wasn’t a poem. It is about a person sitting at a party watching a couple dance and thinking of someone else, which isn’t really anything. I reworked it every six months but could never get it to cohere. It’s also transparently autobiographical but I never said so when I submitted it to my writing workshop group for feedback — I think about myself and past a lot, which is always embarrassing to me, especially with a memory as slight as this. When readers asked what the piece is about, I said it’s a madeleine moment; language as mood; time as a circle. “It’s done,” a regular reader said after another redraft. It wasn’t done but I was sick of it too. I submitted it to 15 journals and was rejected 15 times.

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Postcard: On New York City, Aug. 2017

Rubin Museum, the World is sound

Credit: “The World is Sound,” The Rubin Museum of Art

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desired and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspective deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” – Italo Calvino.

Below is a surreal lyric essay inspired by the Rubin Museum’s The World is Sound” exhibit, and the walk home after. I’ve been thinking lately about how to capture cities–a city like New York is feels especially impossible to capture. 

“What is the sound you hear when you die?”

“What is the sound of the universe being created?”

In one room, a monk chants you to your grave, sweetly.

Every moment passes into another moment like clouds rolling over the moon.

The moon through trailing branches is the moon over a bayou in Louisiana. “Look at the broken castle,” Z says pointing to a building under construction, and the moon is the moon over a castle in Transylvania.

City blocks stretch, each step a step into another time in the life of the city, the moon over a low white wall is the moon over Granada. Continue reading

On Anne of Green Gables giving up her dreams (or not)

“It’s okay that Anne Shirley never became a writer,” offers Anya Jaremko-Greenwold in a recent Los Angeles Review of Books article cropping up on my Facebook feed. Women who loved Anne of Green Gables weighed in: “it’ll never be okay” (me), in defense of the wife/motherhood Anne chose (others), “I sort of get it” (my friend).

For those of us who hold this book as tightly as Anne Shirley holds everything, Anne will always be a mirror.  Continue reading