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Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac 'Gaarriye'

My father told me this story

when I was a child. We sat 

in the shade of a tree and he began:


Long ago there lived a king

who sprouted a pair of horns – just buds,

at first, but he checked them every day

and wore his turban low to hide

this blemish, to hide this mark of shame.


But a king, of course, doesn’t wash his own hair!

His man-servant knew all about the king’s shame

and day by day the knowledge grew 

inside him, a word that had to be spoken,

a terrible secret that had to be told.


They said, You’re mistaken.  

He said, No.

They said, Dead men keep secrets.  

He said, Ah


There were people, he knew, who would feed on such news, 

but his daily bread stuck in his throat.

There were people, he knew, who dreamed of such news, 

but he slept on a bed of burning coals.


Then, one night, he could bear it no longer.

He left his house, he walked out of the village,

mile after mile in a torrent of darkness 

and came to the watering holes, where the eagle

took flight at his footstep, where the gentle gazelle  

shied and ran.  He sat by the water

and thought, ‘There was a time when such things 

could be openly said. Yes, there was a time 

when even the poor could be told the truth.’


When dawn-light shone through the trees, he dug

with his hands, deep down, as a beast digs a den 

and placed his mouth close to the hole

he’d made and whispered his terrible secret

to the earth: ‘King Goojaa, King Goojaa has horns.  

Horns like the kudu.  The king has horns!


Don’t interrupt, my father said.  

Please don’t ask me what these things mean.

It’s just a story I got from my father,

And he from his. Do you want to know

how it ends? Then listen: when the man told his tale

to the earth, the burden left him, it went

underground, and the man, why, he brushed himself down

and went on his way. And this is the strangest

part of the story: that even today, 

when the soft rain falls on that place in the bush,

that very same place where he planted his secret,

horns like the kudu’s grow from the ground.


English version by David Harsent from literal translations by Martin Orwin and ‘Alto’. Gaarriye was born in Hargeysa in 1949. He was the person who first articulated the metrical patterns of Somali poetry. From the 1970’s onwards he has been one of the most important Somali poets. 

From The Wolf 11 (2006)