A poem by Chris Beckett
The poem is reprinted from Tenderfoot (2020).
Sometimes he stands on the balcony in his blue pyjamas
and sees it through the eucalyptus trees
slips out when day is lapping at the dark
and stands there looking over garden gates and walls
over tin roofs clicking in their own shadows
down a track that wanders into the evening
out towards the faintly green distance of hills that is so lovely
already stirring with bats and the idea of pumas
he can hear bells and bits of conversation someone far away
banging a nail knows himself to be small and foreign
standing on the balcony of a big quiet house
that holds him up holding him like a hand under his feet
but never feels unwelcome in the semi-dark…
if someone hails him from the track he will call back Selam!
if someone asks where are you from, little boy?
he will answer proudly Inglizawi negn!
he doesn’t really know right now where English is or what
but is not troubled by the things he does not understand
while his eyes follow silhouettes of long-tailed birds
and he feels this moment stretch almost forever
Chris Beckett grew up in Ethiopia in the 1960s. His translation of poems by Bewketu Seyoum, In Search of Fat, was published by Flipped Eye in 2012 and his second collection of poems, Ethiopia Boy, came out from Carcanet/Oxford Poets in 2013. He co-translated and edited the first-ever anthology of Ethiopian Amharic poetry, Songs We Learn from Trees, also out from Carcanet last year.