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Two Poems – Solomon Tsehaye

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[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 66 (2004), pp. 44-46]

Two Poems by Solomon Tsehaye[1]

 

Sacred Gift

 

I have won my case

I fought and I triumphed.

 

My plant,

plant of peace, tilled by the jagged edges of my bones

plant of prosperity, moistened by my sweet, dark marrow;

This plant of grace,

blossomed – fed by my body and soul

ripened – watered by my sweat and bood.

 

This harvest of peace,

is the fruit of my toil;

This endless, blissful sleep,

the resting place of my heart.

I am fine

underground,

The mound is my blanket

and the bush my neighbour,

My dust-bed is just like a mattress

Oh, how soft has become my stone-pillow!

 

Yet, mother, the wind carries

your melancholy voice to my soul,

a voice tinged with the sadness

of mournful hearts.

You ululate, then weep

You chant, then weep

You sing, then weep

You dance, then weep

You are proud, but weep

Two emotions from one heart.

 

My comrades, like the wheat stalks

overlooked while gleaning the harvest,

My comrades, like the raw seeds

left among the cooked;

Mother, they are watching your weeping face in pain

Please think of them, so they don’t grieve for their living.

 

As you don’t claim back

the sacred gifts you offer for grace,

I too, am an offering for truth;

Highest of all is freedom’s price

so please mother, accept my sacrifice.

 

 

 

Goodbye Kitchen!

 

When first

I saw the world

with my new-born eyes,

there were no cries

of celebration,

no drums, no ululation;

It was an unwanted birth

one without mention.

 

Tradition labelled me worthless

except in the power of birth;

Culture denied me freedom

destroying my sense of self;

This heavy burden

like a hump on my back,

stole my every breath,

Milked my sweat and blood.

 

But, a turbulent storm

swept my way,

carried my burdens

and miseries away.

 

I defied the imprisonment

of tradition,

I broke free from the chains

of custom;

No longer forced to

bow in submission,

No longer locked

in the confines

of the kitchen.

 

Having offered my life

as dowry beyond price

to my country’s service;

Dressed in shorts

and with rolled up sleeves

alongside my brothers,

I irrigate the soil

with my sweat,

I toil and toil

to make the land green and fertile.

 

[1] Solomon Tsehaye is a leading novelist and poet in Eritrea.  He was severely injured whilst fighting with the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) for freedom from Ethiopian colonisation, and was subsequently assigned to cultural work. The poems published here originate from the time of the liberation struggle, addressing the sacrifice of the fighters and the transformation of women’s roles during Eritrea’s liberation war, when a third of all the EPLF forces were women. The poems are translated from the original Tigrinya by Elsa Gebreyesus and Solomon Tsehaye. For more on the artistic work emanating from the Eritrean liberation struggle, see the review of Alemseged Tesfai’s Two Weeks in the Trenches in the book review section.

 

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