Poem by E. Gbanabom Hallowell, Sierra Leone (Published in Issue 26)
This language before which I fall on my knees
owes me an apology. This language
with its shipwrecked grammar and impossible
linguistics has second-rated my frustration.
Knowledge of good and evil I have a false tree
planted in my desert after my Rokel
was murdered in its basins. Tell the English Queen
that my sorrows are not in her words
but in their meanings.
English alacrity steps too lightly
on my tropical concerns
puffing off all its winter ego
in my father’s barn. I can
go to war every minute to lay my hand of hope
on my father’s corpse or his dutiful remains
for I know how much of it has died and
how much remains alive.
Language of my garrison your slave is always
going and coming back, always
full of your vocabularies,
always rummaging your useless books. You make
my mother smile in her corpse,
believing that I can bury her
with the sentiments of your bitter colony.
Accent of the royal speed mind the primitive consciences
of these conquered plateaus; their lonely tributaries
run the blood of thirst sowed by your feat of navigation.
This promiscuous tongue of mine is sore from its many flutes
the quadriplegia of the faithful revolver shooting at my tropics.
I have uttered many boastful statements in English
which I cannot replicate in my mother tongue.
I know now that you are not a mother but a step-mother.
Many a poet have questioned
their black Anglo-Saxon against your snow.
I am questioning your intention as you ride on a broom
over my continent, my African continent silencing
its agricultural languages.
Where is your soul O English?
After being condemned to read in you I do not cry
I do not know how to console my mother tongue;
do not know how to assure her that I am forever
close to her, to her calabash of mind; do not know
how to make conversation without being bookish;
do not know how to control my stammer
when crossing the river of your super Grammar
to come back home and lie on the lap of my mother.
English, you are now the language of my thirst;
therefore, I too seek to imprison you,
to teach you how to listen to the tongue of my mother,
to teach you how to quietly ride on your broom
over the musings of my grand-mother’s
thousand tongues and to make you
citizen of this Babel.
Gbanabom Hallowell has published three volumes of poetry and recently celebrated twenty years of his work with the publication of Manscape in the Sierra: New and Collected Poems 1991-2011(Karantha Publishers, 2012) to national acclaim. In 2013 The Sierra Leonean Writers Series (SLWS) will issue his collection of two stories, Gbomgbosoro. A Little After Dawn, Hallowell is currently Director-General of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), and teaches seminal classes at the University of Sierra Leone.