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International Reflective Writing


Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’

Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac ‘Gaarriye’ was born in Hargeysa, Somalia, in 1949, and lives there now. He attended school in Sheikh in Somaliland and then graduated in biology at the Somali National University following which he was a teacher for several years. As a keen poet and literary scholar also he later worked at the Academy of Culture in Mogadishu and then as a lecturer in Somali literature at National University. From the 1970s onwards he has been one of the most important Somali poets composing on a great variety of topics from nuclear weapons to Nelson Mandela. He was also a poet who was not afraid to engage in the politics of Somalia through his poetry and he was the initiator of one of the largest ‘chain poems’, Deelley, to which many poets contributed each one alliterating in ‘d’ hence the name of the chain. In addition to his poetry composition Gaarriye was the person who first articulated the metrical patterns of Somali poetry which he published in 1976 in a number of articles in the national newspaper of the time.


The poem is under my hand. 
The images crowd my head. 
Poetry is the way 
To get this story told. 
Poetry has the strength 
To tell the story well, 
As long as the images hold, 
As long as the poem writes.

The Oppressor comes into court. 
He is the Prosecutor, 
He is the Judge and Jury; 
There is no ‘win or lose’ - 
The case is cut and dried.

The Defendant stands alone. 
The Prosecutor calls Himself as Witness — yes, 
The Judge upholds the law 
That he himself created: 
It changes as he chooses. 
The Jury only knows 
One word — the word is ‘Guilty’.

This poem is a gun. 
This poem’s an assassin. 
Images mob my mind... 
This pen’s a spear, a knife, 
A branding-iron, an arrow 
Tipped with righteous anger. 
It writes with blood and bile.

I take this bitter ink, 
Blood-red, to make my mark; 
Corruption from the wound, 
Sap from the poison-tree, 
Aloe and gall and myrrh.

This poem’s a loaded gun, 
This verse a Kalashnikov. 
I aim it at the snake 
That slithers to our children 
And strikes! See where the tell-tale 
Blood-beads pearl on the skin. 
The snake, the Prosecutor, 
The Oppressor, the Judge, the Jury - 
You must always aim for the head.

This poem is a gun 
And words are ammunition.

This poem tells a story
That can’t be cut or censored.

This poem’s not up for sale, 
It can’t be bought as men 
And cattle can be bought, So don’t make me an offer, Put your money back In your purse... But you can listen, Everyone can listen, Not just the great and good, Not just Nelson Mandela.

Judge and Jury, listen! 
Prosecutor, listen! 
Policeman, come and listen! 
Turnkey, come and listen! 
You who perjure, listen! 
You who torture, listen!

I want you to hear this poem; 
I want you to hear me speak 
As if I were Mandela. 
I speak for him — Mandela. 
I speak for an angry man, 
A man whose voice was stopped, 
A man whose mouth was gagged 
Because he once said, ‘No!’
‘No!’ to the Prosecutor, 
‘No!’ to the Judge and Jury, 
‘No!’ to injustice, ‘No!’
To indignity and oppression.

He says, ‘Don’t think I’m beaten; 
Don’t think of me as weak 
Or wretched. I’m no slave. 
I’m not destitute 
Although they stole from me. 
I’m not without a home 
Although my land’s been taken. 
Don’t pity me; don’t tell me 
I’ll have my chance at glory.

Didn’t Jesus ask us 
To turn the other cheek 
And give the Fool who slaps us 
Another chance to show us 
Just how much he hates us? 
And if that Fool should kill me: 
Tell me, who’s the victor?

He thinks of me, that man, 
As someone who has no one: 
No friends, no family, 
No allies, no supporters. 
He cannot see the circle - 
Right round the globe — of people, 
All races, colours, creeds, Calling out for justice. 
If I say I’m hungry 
I mean hungry for justice. 
If I say I’m hog-tied 
I mean hog-tied by lies. 
If I say I’m blind, 
I’m blind to compromise.

If I say an angel 
Stands at my right shoulder 
I mean ‘Angel of Death’, 
I mean ‘Death in Disguise’.

Everything I’ve suffered, 
Everything I’ve dreamed of, 
Are mine and mine alone.

The Judge and Jury know me. 
They know what I have suffered. 
They think that what I’m thinking 
Is what they think I’m thinking. 
It’s not. If I say ‘Angel’ 
I mean Angel of Death. 
I mean the Angel’s shadow 
That darkens all my thinking.

The brush they use to sweep 
My thoughts out of the door 
Is worn down to the shaft. 
Only the thoughts are left.

The snake-bite and the blood-beads, 
The blood-beads and the poison, 
Are my immunity.

Once my sleep was dreamless, 
Once my mind was blank; 
Now my dreams are rich, 
My every thought is clear.

Now I see a way - 
A way others have taken; 
It’s called the Road to Freedom.

I want you to hear him speak: 
Hear Mandela’s wisdom. 
Listen, all who hear me, All who think as I do. 
Abu Hadra — hear me! 
Poet and friend, now listen! 
I know you’ll understand.

This poem’s a ransom-note, 
Blood-money to the many 
Who cry aloud for justice. 
It’s payback to Mandela 
And everything he stands for 
And everyone he speaks for.

This poem has a blade 
Hidden at its heart. 
That steel will last forever!

So listen, Abu Hadra! 
If you will listen, others 
Will listen too, will hear 
The words as if Mandela 
Was calling them to arms.

They’ll grasp the blade that’s hidden 
Deep inside this poem; 
They’ll show the Jude and Jury 
The cutting-edge of freedom; 
They’ll show the Prosecutor 
The blade that lasts forever; 
They’ll never bow their heads 
Or walk in chains and fetters.

This poem is a mirror 
I’ve made for us, Hadraawi, 
A mirror we can hold up 
To show the ignoramus 
The depth of self-deception 
That lies in his reflection; 
To show the Judge and Jury 
How the wide world sees them; 
To show the man who takes 
Pleasure in pain the guern 
Of glee that warps his smile.

Hadraawi, read this poem 
To anyone who’ll listen. 
Help them to find the voice 
I’ve given to Mandela. 
And tell them this: our purpose 
Is peace; our password ‘Freedom’;

Our aim, equality; 
Our way the way of light.

translated by David Harsent


Passing Cloud

Setting sun
You're on the run:
Late afternoon
And gone so soon!
What are you scared of? What's the rush?
Is it the spears of light that shine
Back at you from rock and bush?
Is it the dark creeping up on you
Or bad news from the depths of night
That makes you want to hide your light?
Or is it this girl, more beautiful
Than rain in the season of drought, whose grace
Is greater by far than the subtle pace
Of a passing cloud when it's nudged by the wind?
When you and she exchanged glances just now,
It was you who grew pale, it was you who shrank
From the gleam in her eye and the glow of her smile.
Setting sun
You're on the run:
Late afternoon
And gone so soon!
Have you gone
To warn the moon
That she must face
This greater grace?
The roll of the clouds, the furl of the waves -
A sea of cloud stained purple and red,
The swing of her arms, the swing and the sway
Of her hips as she walks is just like the way
You sway and dip and the end of the day.
Now the clouds turn their backs on you.
They only have eyes for the eyes of the girl:
Eyes that launch love-darts, darts that sink
Into the flanks of the clouds and draw
Droplets of blood that stain the sky.
Setting sun
You're on the run:
Late afternoon
And gone so soon…
These are the lines
That seemed to fall
To hand when first
I saw the girl.
Now this is what
I most recall:
The way she reached up to gather fruit
Believing herself to be alone
Until she saw me there, wide-eyed,
As the wind read my mind and sent a gust
To part her dress and lay her breast
Bare for the space of an indrawn breath.
Ah, yes, I remember that…and the way
She caught at the cloth and fastened it,
Turning her face from mine, her eyes
Lowered, as if to say: No man
Has seen before what you saw today.

Both poems and others are available here:


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