Frankincense Chasing Myrrh

The poetry concept is derived from an ancient Ethiopian coffee drinking ceremony which comprises a series of events. A crucial part is the gathering of people whose primary intention is to socialize and enjoy sips of the earthy Arabica hard roast in the company of friends and family. Frankincense and myrrh are a core aspect of the coffee ceremony. The fragrance and the wispy smoke meet one another in the aroma of coffee roasting on the spot, which adds a unique ambience that has been cited in much literature and music.

Translated from an Amharic original by Melanat. Amharic, national language, and one of more than 80 in Ethiopia, is gendered like French and German. The gender of coffee is both masculine and feminine depending on the context in which it is being discussed and the same goes for frankincense and myrrh.

As in any other type of social gathering, the coffee ceremony offers possibilities for the formation of all kinds of intimate relationships with or without the fragrance of frankincense and myrrh. Nevertheless, this poem strays from the conventions of deeply conservative tradition to make metaphoric, nuanced and provocative use of frankincense and myrrh in relationship, not only with coffee, but with one another as well as the people who love to drink it. The piece has inspired artistic collaboration with Deepእብሲኒያ’s Melkamu Meaza for which I am grateful. Here comes the translation.

Frankincense Chasing Myrrh

Would you like a cup of coffee?

I can make one, clear and pure, in the jebena.

Perhaps coffee was not meant for you today,

Your heart pounding, having heat escaped.

Frankincense appears,

Myrrh abruptly disappears.

Ah coffee from the jebena,

A sip enough to chase niggling thoughts.

Women, infused by secrets,

Men, invoking love to his heart.

Ancient sages and admirers,

Myrrh, frankincense and coffee suppliers;

Perhaps they said and we failed to see, thoughts can be stolen;

No less, dreams robbed ceremoniously.

Hot coffee, the sound of its crackling roasted berries,

Don’t leave, smell the fragrance, the aromatic infusion.

Hear it, be open to it, listen,

Taste me as you drink it.

If your heart pounds like the Sunday drums,

If your mind is dizzy and intoxicated . . .

Allow me to invite you to Abol – Bereka – Tona,

Let us take sips from the hot coffee jebena;

Watch the smoking Frankincense wafting;

Let us see Myrrh wrapping into Frankincense.

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