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.

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?

One that is clear and pure, from the Jebena?

Perhaps he is not lucky enough for coffee?

His heart having escaped heat, pounding.

Eyes fall on Frankincense,

Myrrh abruptly disappears.

Ah! Coffee from the Jebena!

A sip enough to chase niggling thoughts,

of women infused by secrets,

and men, invoking love for the heart.

Ancient sages and admirers,

Myrrh, Frankincense and Coffee suppliers;

Perhaps they said and we failed to see,

That thoughts can be stolen.

No less than dreams robbed ceremoniously.

Awaken to the sound of its crackling roasted coffee berries,

Take time to smell the fragrance, the aromatic infusion.

Hear it, be open to it, listen as it pours;

Then 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, Tona, Bereka blessings).

Let us take sips from the hot Jebena coffee;

Watch the smoking Myrrh waft into the air

Followed by the wrapping fragrance of Frankincense.