The following poem was composed in Amharic by my friend of college days, Dr. Amare Tegbaru, while he was languishing in one of the worst Derg prisons suffering from the physical and psychological torture inflicted on him by the military regime for his participation in Ethiopian politics of that era. Dr. Amare lost his comrades when he was in prison. They were executed. A real bird that had built her nest near his cell used to comfort him penetrating the bars and singing for him whenever he was distressed and grief-stricken. The poem was too complex in Amharic to translate into English easily. Yet, I believe I have managed to convey its gist.
MY BIRD, MY COMPANION
By Dr. Amare Tgbaru,
(translated from Amharic into English,
(by Dr. Fikre Tolossa)
Defying thick walls and human reason,
penetrating boldly the formidable prison
pervaded with violence, injustice and oppression,
wherein are absent peace and reconciliation,
the prison whose iron gates the brave wouldn’t venture
whatsoever to break through in a heroic adventure,
undeterred in any way by the machinegun mounted
on top of the tower, by the prison-guard not haunted,
having sneaked in through the bars of my cell,
building her nest above my head, with her spell
enchanting me, this bird I call my bird, whom I engage,
in talking, with whom I share my woes in birds’ language,
my bird, my confidant that feels my pain
and cries with me again and again,
my bird, my little bird, my friend in hardship,
that never gets weary of my friendship,
perching above my head, she watches in pain,
how, denied justice, I languish in handcuff and chain,
and she chirps and chirps sadly, my companion and solace
against human cruelty in this tantalizing, unbearable place.
Each time I need her she shows up,
to share my lot, to drink of my cup,
she’s always there. She never forsakes
me. She heals my spirit and bodily aches.
Then on a branch of a tree swinging,
she chirps and comforts me singing,
she chirps in the morning, wakes me up in the language
of our secrecy, and asks me if I have any message
she can deliver for me to those that listen,
and I would urge my little bird to hasten
and tell the world that our Ethiopia is swept by the flood
of oppression, terror, injustice, tyranny, tears and blood.
“And after your task of delivering my message ends,
“make sure to bring me news about all my friends.”
Then my little bird departs and comes back at twilight,
her face turning blue, her countenance with no delight,
being ceaselessly restless, she flutters her wings,
rustling her feathers and doing weird things,
without speaking a word to me being so sad.
I’d then start singing to her to make her glad,
pouring out my grievance and my anxiety into her ears,
my torment in the dungeons, my nightmares and fears,
till I move her heart and eyes with compassion and tears.
I bemoan to her with a sad voice,
As I have no any other choice:
“Please hearken, my only companion and solace
“in this dungeon, my friend whom non can replace,
“look how I languish in here
“afflicted with grief and fear,
“see how I’m broken because my friends are gone,
“and my comrades dead, forsaking me all alone.
“Have pity on me please sweetie,
“my bold companion, O! my witty.”
Then my beloved bird, realizing I have no any
friend but herself, responds feeling my agony,
stirred by my words, my companion, my little bird,
saying, ” when I tell your story and speak your word,
“everyone that hears them gets overwhelmed and awe-stricken
“all living beings and things– humans and plants, are shaken
“to their roots. None whatsoever, is strong enough to bear
“it. Even the earth, the heavens and the rivers, I swear,
” all are immersed in tears of blood
“that engulf everything like flood.
“Unable to take all this anymore,
“I’ve to return to you, therefore.”
So uttering, my bird sings, dances and whirls around
for me; assuring me that someday would abound
freedom, justice and peace, and that oppressors will be punished,
darkness will vanish, and merciless tyrants will in truth be tarnished.
Though the circumstance is hard,
eluding the ruthless prison-guard,
so comforting me secretly, so dancing and singing
healing my body and soul, her sweet voice ringing
in my ears, heralding liberty’s arrival, invoking flowers’ smell,
enlivening my long-entombed hope, and tolling freedom’s bell,
my bird retreats into her nest,
to take her night’s rest.