Translated by Charles Cantalupo & Ghirmai Negash
Say what you like, but step over the line
And he feels his first scar burning again.
Smell the smoke. He has that true killer look
Because he always sees war – it's ugly,
And dirges play like soundtracks in his head –
Shimber, Hebo, Wazafin – constantly
Making him think, “Encircle, attack, attack….”
He sees enemies like sorghum bending
And breaking, their heads spilling out all red.
Never missing the target, his bullets
Fall like rain hitting the lake, and it floods
As in the days of Noah, only with blood.
Fast and taking too many forms at once,
He's blinding and leaves no time to react –
Like July lightning, thunder, downpours and
Fifty days straight of sandstorms uprooting
Boulders like arrows winging from the bow
Of the hero mercilessly slashing
The tendons, crushing and splashing the marrow.
Like rainy season torrents pounding down
From the highlands with more storms behind them,
He comes to fight, saying “Try and stop me.”
He crosses any desert, sets a trap
And waits for the strong to choke on their blood.
Crocodiles run away from his jaws.
He lives according to his law.
Wisdom lets a lion or tiger sleep.
Seeing him, you better stay far away.
Fakes and fanatics may think they're heroes
And pluck a whisker but then, catching fire,
Caught in the eyes where they wanted to play,
They have nowhere to hide and no more to say.
He throws the trees and rocks out of his path
And grabs his weapons – nobody's laughing.
Fields planted thick with mines, impossible
Desert sand and heat, crocodiles swarming
Rivers and gaping valleys in his way
Reveal him close and watching overhead
Before he leaves them choked with too many dead.
The third offensive explodes with sirens
And unrolls black clouds like giant bee hives
Disgorging armies fleeing for their lives,
Out of control, surrounding him like knives
And helplessly knocked away in the swing
Of his crushing sword – his entire flesh
Bloody and broken with wounds and lead as the field
Where he stands unafraid, letting no one
Flee as he fulfills the ancient lines,
Playing and singing them too: history
Repeating itself, prophecy come true
And the clear reality to witness:
Welcome to free Nakfa, Setit and Belessa.
Like thunder and lightning, it surprises
Enemy invaders and ululates
Continually to all who can hear
No matter how much bombing and terror
Our country and its people have to bear.
Since the invincible guards our borders,
No more battles like Adwa can take place here,
Though he has seen plenty dig their own graves
Thinking it could if only they were brave
Enough to face him and die, and they did,
And not until we see the Red Sea dry
Will the verdict be any different.
Adi Hakin, Adi Mirug, Deda,
Bada , the deserts and wadi of Dahlak
And the Gash, tumbling from the highlands
Down where the lions drink after their prey,
Also testify to the gift of life
Or death overflowing and in his hands –
In the end, perhaps, all that he understands,
Taking aim with his spirit and his gun,
Measuring the last breath of anyone
Who forgets him and casts the first stone,
And ready to bear every burden
And horrible fire demanding his blood
Yet strangely leaving the hero happy,
Even when he dies without finding his home.
Mussa Mohammed Adem (1963): Poet, short story writer and journalist.
He has worked in Tigre radio broadcasting since 1992.
All translations by Charles Cantalupo & Ghirmai Negash
Poems taken from:
Who Needs a Story?
Contemporary Eritrean Poetry in Tigrinya, Tigre and Arabic
(Hdri Publishers, Asmara, Eritrea 2006). 9994800086 | Second printing: Lightning Source. 9 789994 800087