Elegy for Herouy Poem by Kwame Dawes

Elegy for Herouy

On September 1940, Herouy, a close confident of Emperor Haile Selassie I, died in Fairfield Villa, Bath, England.

Herouy, I walked two miles to Bath in rain,
the Hombourg will keep me from fevers
and a trembling death this winter. I have not
heard the soft tread of your feet at my back
for months; now all I hear is the shadow
of your voice in the soft wind through trees.
I prayed for you in Malvern yesterday—
an owl hooted, like the owls in Wando Genet.
It is still the rainy season in Harar
and the mountainsides will be bright
with the meskal daisies of the new year.
There is nothing more desolate than death
in a foreign land. I brought you here
to see you die. We tried to chant the prayers
of our people, so take comfort, friend,
Jesus will speak your language, too.
I could hear him whisper Amharic
in the trees over the Lockwood Cemetery.
I feel naked, now—they have stolen
all we had, and Halifax, as you said,
wears a bwana hat and his mouth is full
of the deceits of colonizers—they want
our holy land, Herouy. Though these obsequious
Bathonians smile, they do so with pity.
An emperor needs justice, not pity;
he needs arms, the flint of resistance
not the milk of pity from peasants.
But these are the gifts we have been given,
and it is no longer your worry, my friend.
I have no friends I can trust anymore,
no one who loves me with your simple
obedience and wisdom. I looked back
on the climb up Kelston Road half-
expecting to see you shuffling, bowed
behind. The road home seems a long way;
we should have died with Italian
sabres in our throats on the streets
of Addis, not here in this mute city.
Forgive me, my friend, for not granting
you the hot, noble, death of a patriot;
all I have given is this eating disease
reducing you to a shadow,
huddled in the yellow Bath stone
like Toussaint, Napoleon, and all
ensnared warriors, weaponless
and impotent as infants. Forgive me,
my brother, my father, my friend.

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