Agurt is here with wide open eyes,
with eyes that are awesome.
Oh, for a shrub to hide under!
Agurt, that’s me, the brother of Shanqute.
You who have a guzzler wife,
divorce her and wait for me!
I, Agurt, came from Wollo after thirteen years.
The worthies of Yefat shat in their pants!
There we were, griping at the back-breaking weeding we had to do.
There we were, carping about being bone-tired carrying sheaves.
There we were, moaning when stacks fell onto the threshing floor.
There we were, complaining we were tired of winnowing the harvest.
Now even the husks would be a sight for sore eyes!
Worse still, the sowing sack, the layda and pitchfork are nowhere to be seen!
Destitution is building a house.
Destitution is walling me in.
I’d better go up to the highlands
before it puts a roof on me!
Here, take my clothes, roll them up and eat them!
I’m going where people have beans.
My cantering mule stopped her canter,
when she saw my heart had stayed behind.
Please don’t boast of being so-and-so’s son.
Please don’t boast of being the son of the brave.
You were seen in the highlands with your begging bag.
Don’t call Mr Poor to Mr Rich’s funeral:
just open his Mr Rich’s store of grain
and let his grain wail for him!
Having sold all my cattle, I was negotiating
the selling price of my children,
when the Red Cross arrived, rolling on huge tyres.
I swapped my mother for a taba of beans,
I swapped my daughter for a taba of beans,
I swapped my wife for a taba of beans,
in order to fill my belly,
never thinking that a good day would come again!
Sorghum is stretching his legs in the lowlands,
white teff is stretching his legs in the lowlands —
as if they had not murdered people,
as if they were clean of blood!
Editor’s note: These poems are a small selection of the amazing work gathered in Fekade Azeze’s ‘Unheard Voices: Drought, Famine and God in Ethiopian Oral Poetry’, Addis Ababa University Press, 1998)