Five Poems

ethiopia: tourism

what you know (not much)  
that it’s in eastern africa and that its southern provinces stretch
 	toward	the equator  
that the capital addis ababa lies at its centre  
that in the last few decades it’s suffered severe drought and famine  
that forty percent of the population is oromo (of whom you have one
 	friend dase who twice during the 1970s escaped the torture
	and probable death of ethiopian prison and who now lives in
that the oromo people feel themselves oppressed by the smaller and
 	more affluent ruling classes  

what you find on your computer  
that ethiopia’s twice the size of manitoba  
that it borders on somalia kenya eitrea sudan djibouti (you like the
 	taste of djibouti the way it rolls off your lips  but surrounded
 	by all those countries  it sounds like trouble)  
that ethiopia is mountainous and reaches five thousand metres into
 	the sky and that only ten percent of its land is arable
that it’s subject to earthquakes volcanoes and that once called
 	abyssinia it’s the oldest independent country in africa
that its economy is based on agriculture (say coffee please)
that its population is half muslim half christian  (and ten percent

what you don’t know but wonder about  
is ethiopia  politically stable  is it safe to travel there  
what is its currency and how much will it cost  
will you have any luck finding ethiopian endemics  harwood’s
 	francolin or abyssinian longclaw
is there snow on the mountaintops  will you wake in the morning to
 	see frost on the shrubbery
what is animist if not judeo/christian/muslim insult

what you discover when you arrive
that if you travel near the eritrean border or anywhere away from the
 	city at night men with spotlight and machete will come and
 	find you

ethiopia: poverty

good long sleep and without jetlag interruptions
whoopee so after an omelette breakfast in the

dining room i step through hotel front doors into
the morning sun star light star bright shade my

eyes look east look west look south find lawns
gardens paved walkways all around like two

three hours walking in a city park but that’s not
all find rolls royce bmw mercedes find mike

boom movie camera ghetto blaster find drums
dancing find celebration find people everywhere

find out it’s wedding day in addis ababa find that
rich ethiopians living in europe canada australia

fly to addis get married fly home again find
three dozen wedding parties on hotel grounds or

more find monster wedding parties bride groom
with twelve male and twelve female attendants all

lined up for photos sometimes in western white
dress and tuxedo sometimes traditional african

dress find it’s difficult to tell where one party
ends another begins find maladapted foreigner

with binoculars wandering from one party to
another searching for african paradise-flycatcher

ethiopia: dase

he says he was born the eldest of eight children eightsisters and brothers says he grew up in a village in
eastern ethiopia says his father farmed and traded in
livestock and sold vegetables at a shop in town he says

all the family grandmother grandfather uncles aunts
cousins they all lived in two neighbouring villages a
large family and each of their houses stood open to all
anyone could sleep in any home if he dase happened to

be playing near uncle’s house at nightfall he’d spend
the night in his uncle’s home he says the family enjoyed
their life together they laughed they worked they played
they made decisions and everything the family owned

they owned as one this toy belongs to our family says
he didn’t own any toys of his own and there were no
separate beds so everyone slept together he says we
were not separate people we were a family (he’s baffled

by my question) says he loved his grandparents says
they never swore at him they never gave him jobs they
let him play as much as he wanted sometimes he stayed
at his grandparents’ house for two weeks because they

didn’t send him off to school and soon enough his
mother came looking for him anyway dase says she’d
come find me and drag me back to my notebooks and
pencils she made me go to class he says and smiles

ethiopia: cradle

remember lucy or dinqineš
beautiful woman alive three
million years ago remember
where anthropologists found
her broken bones in a gully
abutting the awash river in
the afar district of ethiopia
australopithecus afarensis
remember a hot night on the
hill elalaytu with a diamond
sky overhead with thatched
reeds grass mosquito netting
home the bona fide desert
experience remember bilen
lodge best night best hotel
in ethiopia hyena breaths
laughs outside your window
in the dark yellow-throated
serin wakes to sing at dawn
some silent beetles’ lullaby

ethiopia: man

        no rock 
                                        no tree
no bladed grass
                  or stem of vegetation
                                     			no village
                                                                      or even hovel
                                     these empty miles
                      and hours we cross 
          sand and sky
                                                         (we drive this desert track
                                                                      beside it actually
                                                don’t like the road in ethiopia?
                                                                     drive ten feet left
                                                                                   or right)
     a young man
                              near dusk
                                                             walking toward us
			crook robe hood
                                                             against the wind
                                coat of many colours
          walking walking
          walking this empty
                          world                                            augur 
                                   buzzard circling

About the Author

John Weier

John Weier grew up on a peach farm near Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and now lives and works in Winnipeg, Manitoba where he recently served as the Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence at the University of Manitoba. He is the author of eleven books that, as he puts it, “tend to ride the genre boundaries.” His first, a collection of poems titled After the Revolution (Turnstone Press), was published in 1986; his eleventh, Under the Wings of Africa (Wolsak and Wynn), a novel, in the fall of 2007. He is currently working on a collection of poems about Ethiopia, from which the selections in this issue have been chosen. When he is not traveling, he works as a luthier, or restorer of violins. He is a past president of the League of Canadian Poets.