Let me have a polite conversation with my country
a-b-a-b-a : from hear to here. 19 tracks, 70 min; recorded and mixed by Robert Lippok; mastered by Bo Kondren at Calyx Mastering Berlin;
manufactured by Gusstaff Records; graphic design by Basics09; produced by Christina Werner & Robert Lippok & Institut für Raumexperimente, UdK Berlin; 2015. in collaboration with Tobiya Poetic Jazz

Language: Amharic
Poet: Mihret Kebede
Translators: Uljana Wolf, Eric Ellingsen, and Jorga Mesfin

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Let me have a polite conversation with my country

Two Poems by Mihret Kebede, translated from Amharic by Eric Ellingsen, Jorga Mesfin, and Uljana Wolf

Mihret Kebede is an Ethiopian poet and artist, a co-founder of Tobiya Poetic Jazz. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Her work is featured in the Wax and Gold: Poetry Jazz publication (2019), and in the first-ever anthology of Ethiopian Amharic poetry in English, Songs We Learn from Trees (Carcanet Press, May 2020).

 

Uljana Wolf is a German poet and translator based in Berlin and Brooklyn. Her work crosses poetry, translation, and languages in between. Wolf teaches poetry and translation at the Pratt Institute and other places. A book length translation of her work, Subsisters: Selected Poems, translated by Sophie Seita, appeared with Belladonna* in 2017.

Eric Ellingsen is an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at Washington University, St Louis. He is an international writer, artist, educator, translator, and designer. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Chicago Review, The Poetry Project, PANK, and BOMB online. His books include BIG LUCKY, MODELS, and Some Pigeons are More Equal Than Others.

Jorga Mesfin is a self-taught musician with influences that span the spirit and innovation of jazz and the range of ancient sounds found in Ethiopian music. A professional performer since the age of seventeen, he has made musical appearances with Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, Carolyn Beard Withlow, The Last Poets, Vijay Iyer, Wayna Wondossen, Kirk Whalum, Takana Miyamoto, Gizze Reggae Band, Dionne Farris, Aster Aweke, Mahmoud Ahmed, and Mulatu Astatke. He is the founder of Ethio-Jazz group Wudasse, and composed the score to Haile Gerima’s epic Ethiopian movie Teza (2008). As a saxophone and piano instructor, Mesfin teaches at the African Jazz School, Mekane Yesus Music School, and the Wusate Berhan Abere Music Training Center for the Visually Impaired in Addis Ababa.

የሀገሬ ባሎች

እስኪ ሀገሬ …..ልግጠምልሽ
የኔ መግጠም….. ከጠቀመሽ፤
እንደ ባለቅኔ …. ባልገጥምልሽ እንኳን
እንደ’ክት ባሎችሽ …. ባልሆንልሽ እንኳን
ያልራሰውን መሬት…… በላቤ እንዳለማ
ባ’ጥር እየሾለኩ….. ልሁንሽ ውሽማ፤
እንጂ በርሽማ
የላይ የላዩማ
ላይገጥምሽ ተዘግቶ
ላይሆንሽ ተጣብቶ……ማንን አስገብቶ?
          ቢሆንም ቢሆንም ….. ላግባሽ ባልልሽም
          እስኪ ሀገሬ ልግጠምልሽ
          የኔ መግጠም ከጠቀመሽ ፤
መች ይቀራል…. መግጠሜማ
ሰባስቤ ….የቃል ማማ
የህዝብ ግጥም…. የህዝብ ዜማ፤
ግና እኔ ደርሼ …..ቶሎ እስክገጥምልሽ
ሀረግ ጠማጥሜ ….ቤት እስክመታልሽ
ቀለበት አጥልቄ …. የሁሉ እስካደርግሽ
          ሰምሽ እዜህ ማዶ….ወርቅሽ እዚያ ማዶ
          ህብረ-ቃልሽ ሁሉ…. ከባዕድ ተሰዶ
          የድስትሽ ክዳኑ…. ሳይገጥም ተንከርፍፎ
          በኔ እገጥም ……በኔ እገጥም…. ገላሽ ብርድ አትርፎ
          ወጥሽ እኮ አለቀ ….. ተጨልፎ ተጨልፎ ::

Husbands of My Dear Country

Let me have a polite conversation with my country
Let me write a poem to benefit my country
     even if I’m not able to write a poem for my country like the wise poets write
     even if I’m not the legal husband of my country or a leader
     let me still water the dry land with planted sweat
     let me slip in by the fence as a lover

By the front by the top by the upper upper door
     they closed the gate open but the gate never fits
     it never fitted you, probably it never properly
     fit the bowl

either way either way…

I don’t want to ask you to marry… Instead let me write you a poem
     Let me fit a poem… to benefit my country
     My writing of poetry will never stop… my writing of poetry will never cease
     collecting the hill of words

The poetry of the people… is the melody of the people
until I grow vines I will… fit you with my poetry
until I twist lines here I will… build a rhyming house here for you

Because the lid doesn’t fit and the leaders don’t fit
and they always leave the door open
and they always leave the lid of the pot open
so people can scoop things out and scoop things out and scoop things out…

አቃጅ

ቢሆን ባይሆን ብሎ …..ማቀድ ለምንድነው?
ሰው መሆን በራሱ …..ያቃጁ እቅድ ነው
የታቀደ ደግሞ…. ከማቀድ ውጭ ነው
አቀጁ ካለበት…. እቅዱን እስኪያጸድቅ
አልያም ተጸጽቶ ….. ዶሴውን እስኪቀድ
               እንደ ጅረት ው  ዝ….ም ብሎ መፍሰስ ነው
               አፈሳሰስ ደግሞ….. ፍቺው ለየቅል ነው
               አንድም ቋጥኝ መዝለል….. መ ፈ ነ ጣ ጠ ር ነው
               አልያም ጎዳና ላይ ….. ድንጋይ ስር መቅረት ነው ::

The Planner

Why do we even make plans?
Being human is like being the plan
of another planner/planet,
so that in some way you are always
a plant in some-one else’s plan

and so until the planner decides to
change the plan
or unless the planner decides to
dismiss the plan

you are beautifully sitting there,
plain plan man.

Like the flow of the river, determined
by the shape of the land       in any situation. But
how to flow
is a very different question.

You can either carefully step on the rocks
or you can simply decide to flow under
the rocks and be forgotten forever.

Two rocks, still out there—
to shape your flow and course.