Monday, 2 July 2012

Three Poems by Ribka Sibhatu (Eritrea)

This is a video recording I took from an excellent and free reading-of-world-poetry-in-translation event I went to yesterday.


Locusts, darkened sky,
flayed earth. A mother
panting in bed.

A gloomy month, September,
void of vegetables and greenery.


Her crying started as soon
as she came into the world.

Freed from suffering
the search for milk began
going from door to door.

Emaciated livestock lacking milk -
how to soothe the guest?
How to quench a new mother's thirst?
if the goats are not merciful.

In that desolate moment
she devoured the milk that had just been milked
and took up her crying once more.

'Is that chubby one crying again?'

'Roly-poly's crying -
as if there wasn't enough trouble'

'My poor little one... born into 
chaos and famine!'


To a bride, her virginity can be more important than her eyes. In
our tradition, if a bride isn't a virgin, the day after her wedding, we
return her to her parents' house, dress her in a wonciò, and set her on a donkey. This is considered a disgrace by the whole family. During the war, people fled the city for the countryside. To adapt, you had to make sacrifices, like carrying twenty litres of water on your shoulders, even if the well was three or four kilometres away. In 1981, I was a refugee in Adi Hamuscté, some twenty kilometres from Asmara. One afternoon, a handsome youth and four old men came to the house where I was staying, and explained that the young man, whom I'd never seen before, wanted to marry me, because a day earlier, he'd had the misfortune to discovered that his bride had been violated! If my father had agreed, and I'd refused their proposal, I'd have risked either being married off or being cursed by my father. The curse of a parent is a child's worst fear. So I had an idea: to declare that I too had suffered an irreparable incident...! I leave you to imagine my father's reaction who, in the eyes of our community, was also disgraced. This young man of ours left without a word in search of his virgin.

Mother Africa

Cradle of mankind

baobab of the soul,

in your savannahs

and sacred forests

death dances.

You hear the echo, the scream

of the mother

who delivers diamonds

and receives armoured tanks.

O dying land, 

that for decades 

has met the elders,

the elders who keep
the ancestral treasures.

When will dawn break

for generous

Mother Africa?

Madre Africa (Italian version)

Culla umana!
baobab dell'anima,
nelle tue savane
e sacre foreste
danza la morte.

Si sente l'eco, l'urlo
della Madre che
consegna diamanti
e riceve carri armati.

Oh moribund
terra, per decenni
saluta gli anziani
che portano con sé
i tesori ancestrali.

Quando sarà l'alba
della generosa
Madre Africa?

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