The train hauled me out of London —
out of the smoke, the smog, the grime,
the filthy mix of soot and dust —
while the train spun fog from the fabric of steam,
clothing the land with its garment
of blessings and punishment,
Yizze kataf, yizze kataf, goes the powerful weaver.
Isn’t it amazing? Life’s a miracle:
escaping the smog through the power of coal!

The carriage was big enough for ten,
but no one was brave enough to open the door
I’d shut fast to keep in the warmth.
Instead, they huddled in the corridor,
unwilling to share the warmth with a black man —
even though coal is black, even though
the wealth of England was forged by black coal.

The train whistled like a washint flute;
haystacks dotted the distant fields,
just like the straw roofs of houses in a village at home. And, in the blink of an eye, I turned into
‘a traveller of God’ in the meadows of England….

‘Greetings to your household’, I cried,
I am your “black”, your unexpected, guest:
and bring with me, to your kindness, God's blessing’. ‘Welcome, come in!’, the head of the household replied. Then his wife brought a bowl of warm water,
and kneeling down happily to wash my feet,
‘Don’t be shy, my friend’, she said.

First my mouth blessed that tulla beer of Gojjam,
then a bowl arrived, and my empty stomach began to fill
as I licked the linseed oil of Gondar from my fingers;
next, chicken stew rich with curds. Contented,
I yawned. Sleep overcame me as I lay down
on fine cotton and was covered with wool….

Dimly, I heard the door slide open — but was fully awake
by the time it slammed shut. I jumped,
but then calmed myself down,
glowering at the reckless young man,
the brave one who’d dared to enter my den as I slept.
But his spotless shirt and neat matching tie made me laugh: he was so amazingly clean!

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Comments (16)

Tenagne Haile-Mariam

allegory, semina worq, timeless.  thankyou!

dev wiz dg amex

i have no words


Thanks for publishing all three of the versions you created of this lovely poem. It was a fascinating glimpse into your work, and the original literal translation of the poem gave some interesting insight into the mind of the poet.


I really enjoy it the great poem, and also i am the biggest fan of Mengistu Lemma, thanks for shearing he’s poets

mengesha tesfaw



i like ethiopoian poem bebuse thy are beside teru story and they really make sance 


amazing poem. thanx

Dereje mekuria

I am so glad to read the peom from Mengistu Lemma. I wish he had some book in market, I don’ know if there are some.

Abrha Tegegn

I got the poem very much interesting. He vividly expressed tizita. It is splendid indeed.

tewodros heru



እውነት ለብልህ ይነግሩታል እንጂ አይመክሩትም!
    በጣም ላደንቅሕ  እፈልጋለሁ!
i realy get what i need  before 2 apppriciate gash mengistu!


Mengistu usually called Abiye Mengistu is a great poet who pioneered modern poetry in Ethiopia. This piece of his work is remarkable. Actually as compared to the Amharic version the English one is just a glimpse, a glimpse of the original one. Still I like the craftmanship of the translaor as he did a great job rewriting Abiye Mengistu. The poet Mengistu I would say it again is really a poet at heart. Blessings to him, to the translater,  and of course the facilitators….

pat carrico

How does this poem connect with Agatha Christie’s “The Unexpected Guest”, do you know?  I’m sure she must have been aware of the poem’s existence, but was wondering if you knew more about it.

Ted N

More Pls.Really enjoyed this poem, it sort of takes you into the moment… I don’t know, I’m not a major poetry buff but i liked it quite a lot. Are there any more of this man’s poems in translation? If so, Are they purchaseable?


Mengistu Lemma is a great poet. I remember him from my years at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies where I was serving as a research fellow in linguistics. Your trnaslation of the above piece is wonderful. Mengistu Lemma was a great poet and humorist whose sarcastic remarks can make one roll with laughter. I will always remeber him. Thank you for making a piece of his work available to non-Amharic speakers.
If you choose to take a recommendation from an old man: I ask you to look into the works of an Ethiopian poet by the name of Tewodros Abebe. As far as my opinion goes, he is simply the best Ethiopian poet at present. His works are the ones I truly enjoy reading next to Mengistu Lemma. I just wanted to send you a small idea with my gratitude. 
Keep up the good work.   


i cannot comment the great poet’s poem.but i can admire & appreciate since i am a great fan of him.

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