On the hill of Haz-Haz
lived a girl from Asmara.
Alas... beautiful Abebà,
poised and slender;
a flower that rhymes Abebà
like kohl rhymes round an eye!
So that the world may know:
while they were digging her grave,
cloaked in mystery and death,
she wove an aghelghel basket
and sent it empty of hmbascià bread.
On an indelible night,
they took her from me in handcuffs!
Every day I feel her absence
but in the dark she's everywhere.
She never wants to leave me -
so bring me the alghelghel of my Abebà
maybe it holds the answer,
the key to her handcuffs
that now bite into me.
There's only one inscription -
'a memento for my loved ones' -
on the alghelghel of my Abebà,
a flower who faded before she bloomed,
my friend in prison.
The literal translation of this poem was made by Andre Naffis-Sahely
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
It was a real pleasure to translate this poignant, powerful poem by Ribka Sibhatu.
As you'll see, we reversed the syntax of the first couple of lines so they flowed better. 'Asmarina', someone who lives in Asmara, is an affectionate, diminutive term, which is why we translated it 'a girl from Asmara'.
Andre had been puzzled by 'bistre'; but Cristina Viti, a native Italian speaker, pointed out that it can also mean 'kolh', which made perfect sense in the context.
The first time that 'alghelghel' was used we decided to add 'basket' in order to avoid having a footnote; we did the same thing with 'hmbascià' bread. Subsequently, we just used the Eritrean terms without glossing them.
'Un'intensa notte', which Andre translated as 'an intense night' also carries a sense of intense as in a deep colour. We thought about translating this as 'momentous' and then hit upon 'indelible' which, like the Italian, has the sense of depth of hue.
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2015