Someone Takes Wing: Poems by Abdourahman Waberi

by Abdourahman Waberi
translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson

Abdourahman Waberi is a prize-winning poet, novelist, short story writer, and critic born in Djibouti, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa about the size of Massachusetts, squeezed between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Muslim by birth, Waberi’s themes include living a simple life based on meditation and spirituality, the nomadic life, Arabic language and culture, religious tolerance as opposed to extremism, and Djibouti’s harsh climate and civil wars. His language is sparse and simple, which mirrors the desert landscape of his native country, but the underlying humanism pervading these texts is heartfelt and deep.

In order to infuse these lyric texts with music, I used a technique I call “sound mapping” to identify patterns of sound (including assonance, alliteration, and pure rhyme) in the original text, as well as patterns of rhythm. While I could not always fully replicate each pattern, let alone the exact sound, I did my best, and sometimes I got lucky.

—Nancy Naomi Carlson


what I know—in sum, scarcely much—
and what I search for converge
in these days of dearth

the one who watches over the house is gone
giving a tug on the invisible’s cord
this friend in wisdom has passed

it’s not the big ball of dough
but the pinch of yeast that makes the bread
many are those who find
the sublime in the daily grind
by beginning to grow as they shuffle along their way

Chasing After Death

estranged from yourself
you failed to see in your dreams
the trees that offered their leathery leaves
to the sleepy pupils of our eyes
the sky rich with shimmering sea urchins
the ocean keeping the beat since yesterday’s dawn
you never had time to adjust your mount
braving back-and-forth bursts of wind
never could sweep through your daily rounds
just some dusting here and there
it’s grizzly gray outside
which makes us light up from within
the smallest thing will brighten your household again
if you’re back on track
it’s thanks to all of us here
to our persistent dream to grow in time


a pair of shabby shoes
resting on the threshold of a farm
in a painting by Van Gogh
bears witness to the missing peasant
vanished, snatched by seductive powers
of Chagall’s skies

swiftly somewhere
someone takes wing
an angel slips into the frame
a tuft of dove feathers, a bucket—no, a coat
to warm
the face of the one not here

we all know
the presence and spirit of anyone
seen as a whole
creates charisma’s oval

Published on August 25, 2017