The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Dilantha Gunawardana

First Commandment of Poetry


You look for every slim chance

For a poem to be selected for print

A fossilization mechanism of words

Bony sans-serif characters

That stay on a quarterly magazine

Or on the square of a web space, with a snappy title

And a contemporary cover page.


And I know many types of pigeon holes

The ones with the pulling-power of an event horizon

When you write a short note to the editor

And a short biography - an honest account

Of a little poet in the making -

And DHL a few verses down the black hole 

Of a portal. You’re the consignee poet

Who just finished polishing a cut jewel and ponders

“Would they still see as silica?” A complacent commonplace

Piece short of glitter, no constellation power,

What will be forgotten down

The funnel throat of a sink.


And there’s a waiting game, fingers crossed

Knees slapping on wood, to the serial beats of a marching band,

William Tell by Rossini, the beat

Making you as impatient as the winged larvae

On the inside of a cocoon. You have a compulsive

Need to fly, to caress an eagle’s altitudes,

To know your verses have flying power.

And a dynamo, spun by the currents of expectation,

Revolves, to light a little lantern inside.

Poets call it hope.


And you develop resistance. Ohm power

To ampere currents of rejection. The electricity

Of negativity, ambushed by the ebbing tide,

Strangled by self-doubt, the brimming froth

Of whether you have the creative mojo to make

It as a poet. Still you get back up

On the keyboard, piggy back on words,

To transcribe the revolutions of the mind

Into a parchment of verses. You hunger

For the flesh on bone, the meat on words,

To transform the third eye to a piece

Appreciated by countless pupils.


And success, is just a little pat on the back

Or an ounce of facebook vanity, nothing else.

Still the touch of an invisible hand

At the dead center of your shoulder blades,

Has more staying power than the purple orchids

That flower in your garden.

You encounter the sanctuary of a poem

The harvests of your labor, which can be stored inside mental silos

How a collection of free verses

Becomes a collectible, a granary of words.


And every time you brush your teeth

You meet the man on the mirror

Shakespeare in paltry decimals.

And a poem, a fractal in galaxy formation.

A nebula on printed paper

Searching for the clemency of odds

To burn hydrogen to helium

To fossilize into an ineffaceable alibi

Of a poem in print.


And you always remember the first

Commandment – thou shall develop

Some armor around that gooey heart of yours.  

It is easy to sink in a whirlpool.

An apple can fall to Newtonian gravity.

And all you have is a little eye for arrangements

Of words. Like how the wind combs

The autumn leaves on the ground, to beautiful patterns.

And you carry your dreams beneath a tortoise’s shell

A monolith covering your spine.


You will always be judged

On how shatter-proof your outer shell is.

A hatched turtle treading to an ocean

As unforgiving as a guillotine.

When the strength of your armor

Will be your litmus test.


A poet is only defined by

The bilboes on his words

A bulwark around his heart

And the valor of a knight


Searching for the stardust

Of sweet Camelot.



Dilantha Gunawardana

A Poem from a Colorado Weed Shop


Most weeds, the invasive types

Can be grouped with a type of photosynthesis

A mechanism by which plants

Harvest the quantum energy of the sun

To make quantum strides in starch reservoirs.

And they call it C4, like the maize giants

And sugar cane candy. Weeds which grow

Like a fungal mycelium beneath soil and make shrub

Like bodies above ground, and are merciless

In how they synthesize sugars.


Still there is

The other kind of weed – Cannabis sativa-

Of which the flowers are ground to make

A little marijuana, rolled into tobacco leaves,

And smoked until stoned. Soon

You start opening pantry cupboards trying

To find some biscuits or a packet of cashew nuts,

[Some mercy food], and you feel the music

Stringing you along like a train carriage.

You pitch your loopy voice to alter the echo

That rings like a church bell, as all orbitals

Collapse to your dwarf star. You find

Mirrors everywhere, in a spoon you are

Shoveling ice cream with, and the kettle

On the cook top.


And all it takes is a little weed

-Not the noxious type- to make sentience

Jump an octave, some spectra, tens of decibels,

Intensely aromatic and making earth-shattering love.

You become a sponge of senses

And letting go becomes as easy as the levity

In your system. And still you prostrate

To feeling a little cuckoo, a little paranoid.

The strange man on the spoon face that looks

A lot like a man you used to know

As bedlam becomes your asylum.


Smoking weed is like a child in Disneyland

Looking at a larger-than-life Mickey Mouse

And wondering how did that house mouse

Become so big. Soon you become a tranced shaman

Or a bewitched oracle and that’s only until

You start muttering the lyrics of a Nirvana

Song, unknowing that bliss is just an ultimatum

Ecstasy’s end point. Stoned, you become

A gravitational force. Nothing good escapes you.

Yet weeding out the next morning, is a sorry state of affairs.

- To lose your whale blubber. Superman

Slumped next to a rock of kryptonite -


And at 8 AM you’re still strangely there. Only you miss

The hero with superpowers. Numbed by

Man and his paltry existence. The numerical miles

We travel on a calendar, a fickle sense of reality

A puppeteer called fate and a feeling

That we are mere pilgrims of life,

Too empty to believe we have a divine purpose.

Worthless as a weed on a bed of roses.


We can really only weed out our demons.

And cultivate a perceptiveness that can cut through stone.


[Some flower powder if you may?]


Altitudes are not just for the grafting mountaineers

They too are for the Colorado birdmen.




DR. DILANTHA GUNAWARDANA is a molecular biologist who graduated from the University of Melbourne. He moonlights as a poet. His poems have been accepted/published in Kitaab, Eastlit and Ravens Perch. He mixes science with poetry for a living, when what matters is the expression of both words and DNA into something serendipitous. Although an Australian citizen, Dilantha is domiciled in Sri Lanka, his country of birth.



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