In this posting, I have hastily compiled some of the stanzas I have written on martyrs and martyrdom in the series Eritrea, Eritreans and Eritreanism I, II and III that I have posted before and a few more from an upcoming Part IV for this Martyrs’ day. Here is how they go:


 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.

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.

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 is all this sacrifice for?

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.

Ghedli’s folded hidri

Guard it vigilantly

and hand it over

to the next generation.

And lest you kill hope forever,

don’t you dare open it.

Portraits of the unsettling past

As the father hangs his framed picture
opposite to his martyred son’s
he realizes this eye-ball to eye-ball stare
cannot be sustained for long,
and turns the picture to the wall.

Waiting for the fallen

How many knocks must pass
before one knock counts?
Now that it is all over,
what the mother dreads most is a world
devoid of knocks yet to come.

Serial killing

A mother gave all her children
the ugliest names of all
to ward off the Angel of Death.
But the Angel had nothing to go by:
only numbers tagged to their uniforms.

Ghosts in the city

As the old woman walked the streets
she met a young silly boy
that reminded her of someone
from her distant, crowded past.
It will come to me, she said, but never did.

Reconciled in death

When a victim and his killer
appear in the same Book of Martyrs,
nationalism becomes the only logic
that reconciles impossible contradictions
by reducing them to ashes.

Three generations

A mother lit three candles
for her three fallen sons.
Her toddler granddaughter tries hard
to blow them out,
as she wonders where the cake is.

Wailing walls of Adi-Abeyto

A teenager who had witnessed it all,
all he could say was: “A wall collapsed!”
He was too young to remember
that the Wall had collapsed
long before there were prison walls.

Death by hanging in Tel Aviv (Z)

The Warsai are adept
at improvising with little
– in death as in life.
All he needed was a trash can
to elevate himself and touch the sky.

Shaebia’s past

Despite doing everything wrong
if a family remains healthy and plumb
at a time of great famine,
count and recount its children:
it could have been eating its young!

Archeological find in Asmara

They dug and dug furiously.
Yet, they were ordered to dig more
because the historians felt
it wasn’t deep enough
to bury all the past.

In the name of a nation

When metaphors are all we have
for reasons to live and die,
reality becomes our enemy
and blood flows in color only,
as “red badge of courage.”

Equality of the trenches

The authorities ordered mothers

to ululate seven times

at the announcement

of their daughters’ martyrdom,

at last granting them equality at death.

The aliens cause

The authorities said,

“Your son died in an alien land.”

She didn’t know which son they meant:

the one who died in the Mediterranean

or in Shaebia’s Eritrea.

Grapes of wrath

Looking for the fruits of ghedli?

Seek it down there

deep in the Mediterranean Sea

or up there in your romantic head

that refuses to see.

50 years of interruption

He erases the past

as soon as it occurs.

Now, the only memento he has

is the eraser called ghedli

that he confuses for his heritage.

The short age of a nation

This nation has a habit

of killing its children too young

to leave lasting memories behind.

However it stretches those memories,

they won’t last it a lifetime.

… where no one dares to dig

To keep their sanity intact,

Eritreans attribute ghedli tsegatat to the dead

and all the ills to the living,

for fear of someone asking them

where the evidence is …

A generational voodoo

The sound system in Eritrea

is messed up:

whenever people open their mouth,

it is the voices of the dead

that come out.

In the name of martyrs

How does one defile martyrs’ name?

Fools: by vandalizing their tombs.

The sly ones:

by invoking their names

to silence the rest.

Lifetime in Eritrea

As they take turns to lead,

quicksand swallows them one by one.

And the rest count their years

by how far back they are

from the frontline.

A patriot never in the wrong

The patriot refused to believe

the nation’s sons died in vain.

And more sons were sacrificed

to defend that idea.

Hey patriot, it has always been about you!

The unbearable stench of nationalism

Odorless as death,

it took us by surprise.

And only those who survive us

will be able to pinpoint

the day we died as a people

Six feet deep history

When a nation’s memory

goes only six feet deep,

all that it needs is

endless supply of martyrs

to fill it with.

Sanctioning Eritrea

Eritreans measure the worth

of their nation

by how many died for it,

but the earth

can’t take it anymore.

Meeting death half way

There is no surprise

in the long standing order of death

in this land;

only in the long line of men

searching for their names.

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!