(I) Eritrea, Eritreans and Eritreanism

I – Interviewing the president

Wiser clocks at standstill

He runs through a marathon interview.
His followers set the clocks at the start,
but were amazed to see the clock hands
refusing to budge even a second,
preferring to count time only on content.

Covering a fool’s ass

Every time the Grand Fool opens his mouth
black bile gushes out of it.
His followers rush with a white sheet wide spread
to make a Rorschach ink out of it,
and read into it all kinds of wisdom.

Uncircumcised tongue

Every time the tyrant opens
his filthy mouth
bile-muddied frogs jump out of it,
as they keep croaking:

The roaring 20’s

El Presidente talks, talks and talks …
His people try hard to remember
its most memorable moments.
But all they recall is one word: “twenty”
- the number of interviews he conducted.

Crowning a fool

Why don’t the women of Axum
sing the old song
of the foolish king of Mereb Milash
who had it all in his hands before he let it go.
Haven’t they heard of his reincarnation?

The king of fools

Ah, why blame a fool for being a fool!
Blame those who carried him for 20 years
before they sneaked him to Asmara
with all his foolishness
tightly caged inside a Pandora’s box.

I I– Independence and nationalism

“Eritrea! Eritrea!”

They shout it at top of their voices
from the rooftops
in defense of the homeland,
as the roofs cave in
from too much stampeding.

May 24 sticky memories

The people want to relive
that single event
that brought joy to their hearts.
But, hard as they try, these days
memories come in bundles only.

The “nationalism” alabaster

Alabaster around their neck,
|they keep sinking fast.
Asked to throw it out, they shout:
“With such a heavy name curved on it?
No hands dare commit such treason!”

The Eritrean flag

You want to know which way

the wind is blowing?

Stand in front of the flag,

and feel the breathe of a whole nation

on your bared back.

III – The Eritrean dream

White nights

The Warsai were up on their feet

day and night

for such a long time

that when it came to sleep time,

they forgot how to dream.

Endless nightmare

The people were asked to give up

all their dreams

for the sake of the nation.

So they did, including the dream

of ever dreaming again.

Edible dreams

The dream of this nation

can only be sustained by devouring

the dreams of its children.

And the parents happily line them up

to be thrown into the national dish.

Ghedli’s folded hidri!

Guard it vigilantly

and hand it over

to the next generation.

And lest you kill the hope for ever,

don’t you dare open it!

Ghedli’s consensus

Those who agreed on that first day

were glad that the agreeing part

was done and over.

Now, they have to figure out

what about – after five decades!

(IV) Fathers and their toddlers

The genesis of ghedli

Our fathers committed the greatest sin

a father could possibly commit

when, confusing muhro for wisdom,

they DEFERRED to their sons

at too early an immature age.

Indulging tantrum

A tyrant is like a toddler

left on his own;

everything is his to explore.

And left alone for long,

he burns down the house.

Young thoughts

The Warsai complain of the old generation.

Hardly do they know!

The old generation’s cardinal sins

go all the way back to their young days.

The problem is: they never grew up!

(V) The culture of martyrdom

Breast-fed thoughts

When a nation at war with itself

invokes the name of martyrs,

mothers lose their instinct

to protect their young,

and spill their milk on dry earth.

The wailing wall of silence

Eritreans have something to say

only on memorial days.

But the unearthed are puzzled

why the dead want to talk to the dead

above ground.

Bereft of identity

In the culture of martyrdom

there is no distinction in name

between those who begat

and those begotten,

for death begets only death.

Territorial thoughts

When a citizen’s thought

is not free enough

to resist the gravity of the land

so as to soar high above,

it goes only six feet deep.

Missing pages

What is most notable

about the book of martyrs

is not what it says

but what it doesn’t say:

what for is all this sacrifice?

“Because our martyrs died for it!”

When there is no justifiable cause

for the death of so many,

the death of so many

becomes the reason

for the death of many more.

(VI) Mute revolution

Eritrean division of labor

When those who have nothing to say

say a lot

and those who have a lot to say

say nothing,

a revolution goes mute.

Tim mibal meritsna

When the only noise a revolution makes

is through guns,

that noise is confused for its voice;

and a thundering silence

follows thereafter.

Recklessly patient

In this tortured land,
silence is confused for wisdom.
Patience is valued so much
that it stubbornly prevails
in face of horrendous injustice.

Recklessly silent

The most reckless are not those
who run fast to catch the only train,
but those who stand still.
Do not confuse speed for recklessness.
Nor silence for wisdom.

(VII) Unity and identity

Tortured identity

When an idea that cannot wade through
a shallow river to meet an old relative,
attempts to swim across a sea
in search of a new one,
sharks claim it as their own.

The culture of exclusion

As they keep excluding
one group after another
in search of “genuine” Eritrean,
they find themselves outside the empty set
they have so laboriously constructed.

A split-headed birth

The women of Eritrea
ululated 14 times
for a child born still!
It was a two-headed monster
they cannot help but marvel at.

Hade libi, hade hizbi

Eritreans love each other so much
that they decided one heart would do for all.
But it was so monstrously huge
that the only place large enough
to accomodate it was the President’s Palace.

Assembling disjointed Eritrea

Frankensteins are not assembled
out of alien, monster components,
but out of normal creatures’ body parts.
It is only that they don’t fit with one another
or are jointed at their weakest links.

IX – War and the horrors of living

Creatures of ambiguity

The guayla drums are beating.
Is it a call to feast or war?
The villagers won’t say.
So much existential ambiguity
in a dead animal’s skin!

Micro-dammed in Eritrea

The drums of war are beating;
young men are pouring down the hills.
Mothers hold hand in hand,
damming this flood of men.
But the earth too claims its share.

Bayto a’di in zemene ghedli

It is a miracle how it stands,
this bayto tree with deadened roots.
Does it remember how
from the elders’ stories,
told and retold under its shade?

Eventless horror

The people have no idea of the horror
|they have gone through.
They say it has to play out first
before they can conclusively identify it.
Even if it takes a lifetime!

The Eritrean story

The people are dying out
because they have no new stories to tell.
They keep beating the same story
over and over
until nothing is left of it.

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