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Lament of A Prodigal Son

It was a surprise and delight to find an English poem written by Dr. Yonas Admassu in “Emergences’, a journal that I came across by chance in a small bookshop. The inside note says that it is the journal of the Group for the Study of Composite Cultures, published by the University of California.

Dr. Yonas is an assistant professor of Amharic literature in the department of Ethiopian Languages and Literatures at Addis Ababa University. In addition to his teaching post, Dr. Yonas produces various criticism and translation works famous for the lucidity and brilliance in both style and content. Yet he has also some poems to his credit.

I’ve already posted a poem that he has translated from Amharic before and once again I am taking the liberty of posting his whole poem here.

The poem, one could safely say, establishes a clear, precise prose standard and is accessible and plainspoken. He describes of his walk to the cemetery where he says has discovered a “solitary figure upon which sat the noble ideas of an old friend” and to his grandmother’s tukul where he says saw a snail “patiently leaving a trail of life” and a moth “dancing about to an inaudible rhythm”.                                                                 

                                                   Lament of A Prodigal Son

                                                      (or, Homewardbound)


In my mind’s mind,

hovering some thirty thousand feet

above neatly arranged patches of brown and green,

I tried to recreate the bits and pieces

of an unfulfilled vow,

and landed with a limping imagination.




The tired past of failed promises

yawned its hugeness into the folds of my wrinkling, blank face,

and in one swoop, fell into eternal slumber,

leaving me starting into a lonesome future

punctured by a voided present.

On sidewalks without evergreen trees.



I went to the cemetery   

and discovered a solitary grave

upon which sat the noble ideas of an old friend,

their teardrops watering the surrounding weeds.

Happily multiplying into the meek

who inherited the earth.

In the churchyard where I first said my “a-b-c’s”



I called upon my old teacher dwelling in the recesses of my memory,

all bent with years of patience,

his yellowing skin  matching the amber of his tattered shawl,

and asked him for a wisdom that my knowledge lacked.

With a genuine grin from his squinting eyes

he pointed to the half-drop of water  in a cracked calabash,

urged me to have my fill, and disappeared,

leaving me to wonder at the enigma that he had always been.

Under the only olive tree that still seemed to bear fruit.



I walked back to my grandmother’s tukul

where the smoke from the last fire she lit

still rose in witness to a peculiar breed of presence.

I saw a spider busily weaving its delicate webs;

I saw the little tinziza-beetle

pushing a roll of dung backwards to distant hole;

I saw a snail patiently leaving a trail of life

beneath the intricate twists of its seemingly lifeless shell,

in no particular hurry to no particular anywhere;

I saw an earthworm writhing under the weight of

what appeared to be a million particles of brown soil,

towards a destiny it alone seemed to know.

Then, I watched a colorful moth listlessly land

on the big toe of my stretched-out leg,

dancing about to an inaudible rhythm

only made visible by the flutter of its wings

ever so delicate, ever so vulnerable.


And I understand.

Munching on some boiled bean sprouts

that my aunt served in an earthenware

she had herself wrought.

 (June 1993)  

  1. Yaya
    July 23, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for posting this beautiful poem. I like its lyrical quality and straightforwardness. It brought memories of girlhood; albeit mine was in the city where the family gathered around the sofa at night, chat and talk incessantly and teasing each other

    • Tsehai Hailu
      February 15, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Very nice, Thank you for posting it. Sadley Dr. Yonas Admassua passed away in 2013. But his memory lives on for the generation to come.

      May he rest in peace!

  2. Temari
    July 28, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    punctured by a voided present.

    On sidewalks without evergreen trees.

    Wish someone would explain what those lines would mean?

  3. sheriff
    August 8, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Mizanawi
    September 15, 2008 at 9:54 am


  5. haftu
    June 2, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    a nice poem!!!

  6. yihenew melese
    February 21, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Publish his works as a book/books

    1.DISSERTATION( in English)
    2.ARTICLES( in English&in Amharic )

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