In Prison (Kifungoni)
From looking up at the sky
and crying from so much longing
sky-blue has seeped
into my eyes.
From growing maize in the fields
and crying so much from sadness
yellow has seeped
into my eyes.
Let soldiers go to war
lovers go to the garden
and teachers to the classroom,
As for me, give me prayer beads
and an old chair from the past
So in this world I would be:
at the door of inner pain
while books, laws and all religions
guarantee me death
starving or in prison
The literal translation of this poem was made by Katriina Ranne
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
We've translated two poems by Alamin Mazrui which, in English, have the title 'In Prison' even though, in Swahili, they have different titles, 'Kifungoni' (this poem) and 'Kizuizini' (the other). However, both words are best translated as 'In Prison', so we've decided to leave them and to distinguish between them by appending the Swahili title to the version in English.
We've all enjoyed translating Alamin Mazrui's complex, deeply thoughtful poems. He engages with directly political issues in a suggestive and indirect way that few other poets ever attempt, avoiding polemic or shutting down the poem's options. His poems speak to the subjective experience of political and moral conflict with great delicacy and tact.
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2014