Selections from When Donkeys Give Birth to Calves: Totems, Wars, Horizons, Diasporas

Atmospheric Spirits (for Nuruddin Farah)

In my hometown, the dead
Still exact revenge
From the grave.
The receptacles of the dead

Are the living dead
Who already straddle
Two worlds.
Do the parched remains of a scuttled idea

Refurbish a tale mangled by time
And reduced to ashes?

Let cinders tell our story.


An Oasis of Love

A recuperative spell
Comes
In the form of an oasis
Behind palm trees.

The trickling water resembles
Lather tricking the eye
Tricking the soul
Tricking the body

Beware of a noose hidden
In the rind of a palm tree


The Clan, the Nation and the World

If our forefathers sprang back to life
In horror they would cringe, crawl
Back into their holes.
They’d laugh at the rooster mummy
And the serpent mummy
And the scorpion mummy
And the skeletal crab that still decorate
The Afar Irdood gates of our national dome

I dream of a new mix, the splash of
Colors, a mishmash of totems where
The rooster mummy and the serpent mummy
And the scorpion mummy and the skeletal crab
Coalesce
The convergence ushering in the era of a new totem
With the body of a camel, the horns of a bull
The udders of a cow, the hooves of a horse, the
Mane of a lion, the beard of a goat, the gill of a fish
And the contours of red earth embroidered
With fresh stem from galool berde yicib yaaq beeyo
Murcood gob qare galley miseggo waambe qamadi
Sarmaan shilan foodcas masaarojabis

Isku dumme, Isu dumme, Molder of nations, where are you now?

Annealed in Symmetry (for Ammiel Alcalay)

In the war of words between
Warring factions unaccustomed to stymieing the ego
Saber rattling semantics obfuscate the agenda at hand

In times gone, under the shade of the Yaaq or Muki tree,
Word and action were annealed in symmetry
After a meandering verbiage had run its course

 

Ali Jimale Ahmed (PhD, UCLA) is Professor and Chair of Comparative Literature at Queens College, where he also teaches for the Africana Studies Program and the Department of Classical, Middle Eastern, and Asian Languages and Cultures; he is also on the Comparative Literature faculty at the CUNY Graduate center. Author of several books, including The Invention of Somalia (1995) and Daybreak Is near: Literature, Clans, and the Nation-State in Somalia (1996), Ahmed's poetry and short stories have been translated into several languages. His most recent publications include Fear Is a Cow (2002), Diaspora Blues (2005), and The Road Less Traveled: Reflections on the Literatures of the Horn of Africa (2008, co-edited with the late Taddesse Adera).  A former Editor-in-Chief of the UCLA journal Ufahamu, Ahmed has, in a past life, been a journalist (both print and radio) in Somalia, where he had a weekly radio program, Qoraalka iyo Qoraaga (Writing and Writers), and was for several years, a contributing editor for Heegan (Vigilance), the only English weekly in Somalia at the time. He also dabbled in that other witchcraft called “politics.” In the early 1980s, he chaired a panel of writers that was asked to write the biography of the late Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre. The finished manuscript was, for various reasons, never published.  Ahmed has for several years now been at work on a book tentatively titled "Reflections on a Hagiography." These four poems from his forthcoming book, When Donkeys Give Birth to Calves: Totems, Wars, Horizons, Diasporas. In the preface to this volume, Noam Scheindlin writes, “The "war images" that this volume offers, do not come to us as a sort of picture album made available to those of us who have the leisure to take it up, asking our pity or outrage, or fascination. Rather, they call upon us to contemplate war as our own diaspora: a time where images cannot cohere, coalesce.”

 

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