This poem is inspired by memories of a lovely and kind-hearted Ethiopian university student who lived with my family when I was ten. She introduced us to berbere and doro wat, and taught me to appreciate gastronomy from Africa’s horn. She had a beautiful smile, she had a Wilson Pickett record and she initiated me into the mysteries of pop music and the radio. Her name was Adeye. This was in the mid-70’s just before the Marxist coup which brought in Haile Mengistu Mariam. We lost touch with her long ago. The poem is also inspired by times I have been offered coffee among Ethiopian people, who have a beautiful ceremony involving frankincense when they partake.
One last Kushitic dream—be patient: once I was at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in the Egyptian mummy room (a Coptic one-liner there for you). I was chatting with a beautiful Eritrean security guard among the crypts. Mysteriously, everyone cleared out and for a short while it was only the two of us, surrounded by opened sarcophagi in the dimly-lit room. For a moment I thought I was speaking with the eternal spirit of some princess who had just climbed out of one of them !
I long to know that land in spirit
where the highlands meet the desert.
Where there’s faith and coffee served
with ceremony still observed.
The white-robed land, where priests intone
in levite ritual ‘round the ark.
A land in clouds of frankincense,
whose past is bitter, strong and dark.
I’ll enter where the rock is carved
in cruciform epiphany;
where Midian’s curtains hide the starved
whose hunger feeds conspiracy.
I’ll walk the wilds of Meroë
all ruined in the desert sands,
where beauty wails and ululates
as silver gleams on amber strands.
Her kings and peasants come to naught
when princes’ plots are overthrown.
Her blameless name was never bought;
her faith in Christ is scribed in stone.
Queen Sheba’s golden sepulcher –
your modern guises can’t suffice
to quench the fire of God and spice.
Davidic land—like calvary
your power purifies the heart
through struggle, prayer, and ancient art.