Some poems from Ethiopia Boy

     Abebe, the cook’s son!


Abebe, from a distant afternoon
Abebe, from an afternoon where everybody naps
even the donkeys propped against trees
     on their little hoofs
Abebe, tall as a eucalyptus tree
Abebe, black all over when he pisses on a eucalyptus tree
who jaunties me down dirt tracks to the honey shop
     buys two drippy honeycombs in a box
Abebe, the cool one in drain-pipe jeans and sky-blue sneakers
Abebe, the busy crossing where girls stop to chat
who clicks his fingers to the funky Ibex Band
     as we slow-boy back up track
Abebe, calling come here! to the dog called Come Here
Abebe, trotting round the dogyard like a horse 
who saddles up the smokey horses and takes me galloping
who shouts at mud-caves where hyenas sleep
who shows me how to make kwalima beef and ginger sausages
        and a happy chick-pea fish for Lent
Abebe, gobbling up the afternoon like a kwalima 
Abebe, grinning like a chick-pea fish 
     while everybody naps
 

     Addis & Abebe
   
    My name is New, always New.
    Even when I’m old, I’ll be New.
 
    My friend is Flowering. I wish it was me.
    I want to be Flowering when I’m old.
 
 
 
    Wondwossen, the prayer child
 
(after Nega Mezlekia’s Notes from the Hyena’s Belly)
 
When you are born as the result of fierce and persistent prayers
 
when you are born from prayers to all known saints
   and from a fortune spent by your mother visiting a holy man
   who has just returned from Madagascar and is said to have
   the most up-to-date knowledge of the dead and the unborn
 
when you are born from the gift of a sheep and five kilos
   of clarified butter in a tin and a box of expensive oudh
 
when you are born despite the spells of your father’s brothers
   to stop another boy inheriting the family’s farmland
   despite the fact that nobody in the family is a farmer
 
when you are born and straight away dressed in little frocks
   and spend your first four years on earth as a girl called Kutu
 
when your fourth birthday is marked by the most lavish party
   to which four hundred guests are invited, including neighbours
   and relations, local bigwigs and their wives, plus all the good
   and bad spirits who preside over the town
 
when your fourth birthday party is also attended by twenty-two
   street dogs, seven stray cats and five famished eagles
 
when your mother brings you out in boy’s clothes, with your
   hair cut short like a boy, and announces that you are a boy
 
when everyone is overjoyed except for the evil spirits of
   body-snatchers who have no more power
 
then you know that your speaking soul
   and your thinking soul
   and your soul that is capable of being saved
   and the earth and wind and fire and water
that together make up the seven elements of your being
 
have been brought into the world because they were all desperately
   wanted by your mother
who will always want you, even when she is dead
   and you are dead
 
and because of the fierceness of her wanting
you will always want yourself too
 
 
 
  Some poems from The Dog Who Thinks He's A Fish

 
Bread
 
   The letter was all about bread.
   And about a mother who was bread
   in the way she rose like a loaf
   and fed everyone around her,
   in the heat of her body when she slept
and the yeasty texture of her skin.
She was freckled as a sesame roll.
She could be thin as toast
or thick as a slab of soda bread.
She had the trick of being fresh each day
and big enough to break
and share with the whole family.
 
The letter, in calling her bread,
made her really feel like bread.
There was no butter in it,
to call it a bread-and-butter letter.
No thanks for any particular gift
or best wishes for a special date.
It was just about bread, the sort
that people buy or bake each day
and eat without much thought.
 
This is Helen’s most amazing letter,
she said, and put it in the bread bin
to keep fresh.
 
 
Totem
 
When you go away, even for a week,
I like to rebuild you from scratch.
I approach it slowly, like making a face
from a skull or the body of a caveman
from his footprints in the ash.
I use what’s to hand, a toothbrush,
a nail clipping off the carpet, 
creams that line the window sill,  
a few black hairs from the bath
which I plant in a pot like cress.
For skin, there’s a chickpea recipe
from Claudia Roden’s Jewish cookbook,
your eyes are purple olives from a tin
we keep just for emergencies,                                
and yes, your heart’s the travel clock
which you wound up, then forgot to pack,
dashing out to the mini-cab with a frantic wave
that I imagined was a signal to all
remnants and reminders of you in the flat,
to club together and keep me company.