The following poems by Euphrase Kezilahabi were translated from the Swahili by Annmarie S. Drury.


The Resolution now is leftover food
on the capitalist’s mustache,
a pen that leaks
in the student’s bag,
heavy dust
after cows have passed.
No one was shaven,
no one was given a new pen
and the road was not sealed.
What remains now
are some millet grains
scattered in the desert
by a blind sower.


Look at the Killer

Yesterday I killed three words pitilessly.
The complex word I hit in the air;
it fell into pieces that can’t be rejoined.
People should look for a new word now.
“Heaven” was gliding around in the clouds
surprised to see what had occurred.
I struck, it broke, and its life trickled away;
the word lay splattered on the ground.
“Death” I discovered dancing naked in the cemetery;
unceremoniously, I buried it.
No one called me a hero.
I put on my little rings of bells, set a feather on my head
and went to market sporting a bracelet of fur.
Behind me, dancers followed along
“Look at the killer!”


Being Here

To tell you the truth, I got to be in heaven
looking around for a very short while
within the ideas in God’s memory.
When he forgot me I slid into a tiny opening
in the dance of surprise
and like a larva I swam
heroically in a river of tears
until I bumped against a soft wall
and entered inside to become a living creature.
There I rested in life’s fertility.
When I recovered my strength
I pulled myself back into the river of tears.
I came out through a window and dropped down alive.
I saw for the first time
the wealth that had long hidden itself in me.
I cried with happiness.
Then I began to enjoy
the sweetness and rightness of being here.

When God remembered
and saw his example outside himself
he gave me a name and a number
and I played that game in which each day
thousands are taken off the field
never to return.

I know one day he’ll call me into his courtroom
where angels and devils wage their battles of advocacy.
I’ll be tried for all I did in freedom
and for that bad poetry that caught his attention.


Who Plus Who is Who?

Those chubby birds up there in the tree
were switching among the branches:
this one on this branch, that one on that, those
very ones. And we feared looking up
because they were so well fed, feared
our eyes might be hit by droppings.

And one bird, the biggest of all,
caught our attention at the limits of our sight
riding the wind back to its perch—
until the currents of time tossed a stone into the tree
and the green flag faded along its seams.
There came the sounds of a dog with meat.

Now the elephant and its trunk are trapped,
rabbits enter the stage, and a jackal
sings earnestly from the elephant’s back.
We’re dancing a dance of unknown choreography.
Who plus who is who
is a political riddle.