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from the May 2013 issue: North Korean Defectors

Crocodile

Mamba

I too have words; I’ll join those already speaking;
I’ll gild my verse so it pleases those who’re reading;
Untwist these words, for their sense may be misleading.

There’s a croc gliding smugly down the river,
A boastful sop who believes he’s brave and clever.
He loves to talk, tells the world he’ll live forever.

With fool’s conceit he strings himself along,
Sustains belief that he’ll always be this strong,
But self-deceit and pride can only last so long.

He should know, someday he’ll breathe his last.
He too will go, once his die’s been cast.
Time will show his power finally passed.

What lies ahead none of us can comprehend;
What fate has set, no show of fierceness can transcend.
Don’t forget: what has a start must have an end. 

Written while the poet was imprisoned by the Kenyatta government, 1969–72, and published in Abdilatif Abdalla, Sauti ya Dhiki (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 10. By arrangement with Oxford University Press. Translation © 2013 by Meg Arenberg. All rights reserved.

Mamba

Nami nambe, niwe kama waambao
Niupambe, upendeze wasomao
Niufumbe, wafumbuwe wawezao
 
Kuna mamba, mtoni metakabari
Ajigamba, na kujiona hodari
Yuwaamba, kwamba ‘taishi dahari
 
Memughuri, ghururi za kipumbavu
Afikiri, hataishiwa na nguvu
Takaburi, hakika ni maangavu
 
Akumbuke, siku yake ikifika
Roho yake, ajuwe itamtoka
Nguvu zake, kikomoche zitafika
 
Afahamu, mtu hajuwi la kesho
Hatadumu, angatumiya vitisho
Maadamu, lenye mwanzo lina mwisho.
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