Three Poems by Bewketu Seyoum

by    /  February 25, 2021  / Comments Off on Three Poems by Bewketu Seyoum

photo by Teake Zuidema

Bewketu Seyoum is an Ethiopian poet, novelist, and socio-political satirist. He is the author of four volumes of poetry, two novels, two collections of short fiction, and numerous essays. Currently, he’s an ICORN Writer-In-Residence at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, where he’s recently completed a book of poems about life in the pandemic. This month, Sampsonia Way is featuring an in-depth conversation about his writing process, how he remains connected to Ethiopia through the pandemic, and how he’s used quarantine as inspiration for his writing.  

New Year’s Greetings

“Wishing You a Happy New Year,
Of peace
Of bliss,”
of so-on,
and of so-forth
you still profess!
Don’t you have new words that might convince?

Two score years have lapsed
since “New Year” started morphing into the dreary mirror of its past,
rendering the whole world a minefield
fountain grass covered.

What was absent in yesterday can’t be discovered tomorrow,
so I don’t wish for peace,
nor do I seek comfort.
All that I ever desire is
a reticent tree shade in the midst of the sweltering heat,
a station offering respite at the belt of a hill trekked,
a flash of order in the chaotic tumult,
a brief tea break in the mildest of a fierce battle,
where in the lull
between the strife of the day and trials of those coming,
a moment of hugs,
and a few steps of dance.

Translated from Amharic by Tariku Abas


Tell her that you love her

Life is like that ox you borrowed
it cannot be permanently harnessed
it comes for a limited time and will leave when the time is over

These days, weeks and months
are not rings and bracelets fastened to your hand
So tell her now that you love her

Before the flowers shed their petals
and all the sweet scent has gone
Before the garden gets locked and ants take the place of the bees

Before the lamp light goes out completely
struck by the wings of the wind
Tell her now that you love her

Before she rises up to go
to a place far and unknown
while she is still here beautiful and alive

Before the earth holds her
like a stone thrown to the ground
Before she becomes the ash you will not paint your face with

Before her body melts into air you will not breathe
while you have a mouth and she has ears
Tell her now that you love her

Translated from Amharic by Cheryl Moskowitz

Then and Now

I was a river running free in a meadow
but now I am caged in the flatlands
and the free-flowing body of you
is shut away also
in a small locked cabin
because we both know this rain of bad luck could fall on us too.

We had arranged a meeting
before we were trapped
for tonight at 8pm.

Are you still coming?
Should I break free, uncage myself?
Should I make my bed ready
for you and me and death —
a threesome?

Or should we cancel
reschedule for an unknown future?

I will continue to want
with no getting
your warmth, your love
your arms, your thighs.
Missing you is the real disease
no vaccine can prevent it.

Translated from Amharic by Cheryl Moskowitz

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