The Banana Plant

The banana plant lies on the ground, no longer of use,
having been cut down, reluctantly, by the workers in the garden.
Children, anxiously, wait till time's up.
There's nothing in the garden,
other than a sorrowful wind
that makes the grass shiver and moan.

This is exactly like a polygamous ruler.
The tree of the town lies on the ground, no longer of use,
having been cut down, reluctantly, by the workers in the garden.
There's nothing in the room,
other than a sorrowful wind, shaking
the traitors circling the bed crying
tears of hope
that warn about the dangers of quarrels at home
between women
between children, about trinkets and leaders.
Poor you! Alexander's reign is over!

The leper's sores are exposed,
wounds that were hidden for so long
are now in plain view, stinking,
to be sucked on by all kinds of flies.
But each time the fly sucks it is thinking
who next it will infect.

Translation notes

'The Banana Plant' is one of Euphrase Kezilahabi's earlier poems, when his work was much more directly political - as you can see.

We were very struck by that rather bald, and somewhat opaque, phrase 'This is exactly like a polygamous ruler' at the beginning of the second stanza, which we left as Katriina had translated it. What is exactly like a polygamous ruler is left for us to work out, and we liked the way the image just announced itself without explanation bang in the middle of the poem.

We also liked the way the 'quarrels' are dismissed (and patronised) with that wonderful phrase, 'Poor you! Alexander's reign is over!', the way it gestures towards tyranny (Alexander the Great, we presumed) and the temper tantrums that famously characterise the behaviour (and outlook) of tyrants themselves.

The final line of the poem - 'Whom to infect next' - provoked a long discussion. 'Whom to suck next' didn't sound like anything anyone would ever say, but it was important that the verb - 'suck' - was one syllable as 'infect' ruined the rhythm of the line. In the end, altering the word order gave us the pleasingly succinct, 'who next it will infect'.

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