Featured Poem

In Lampedusa

On 3rd October
a barge carrying 518 people 
arrived in Lampedusa
           Having survived a brutal dictatorship
           and a journey full of pitfalls
           they stood atop their raft in the dead of night
           and saw the lights of the promised land
Believing their suffering had reached an end,
they raised a chorus and praised the Virgin Mary.
While waiting for those ships to rescue them,
men and women, children and grownups,
the sick and the healthy began to sing hymns!
    ስምኪ ጸዊዐ መዓስ ሓፊረ፣
           I wasn’t ashamed when I called out Your name,
     ማሪያም ኢለ ኣበይ ወዲቐ:
           I called out to Mary and didn’t fall
    ስምኪ እዩእ’ሞ ስንቂ ኮይኑኒ:
           Your name sustained me throughout my journey
    እንሆ ምስጋናይ ተቐበልኒ!
           and here is the grateful echo of the song I raise to thank you!
Suddenly the raft
started filling with water;
they began flashing
red lights to sound the alarm;
switched their lanterns on and off!
Alas, all was quiet on the island.
Meanwhile the water rose, stoking fears the ship would sink.
           To send a distress call,
           they set a sail on fire, and as the
           flames began to spread, some frightened people
           jumped overboard and tipped the boat.
They were all adrift in the freezing sea!
Amidst that storm, some died right away,
some beat the odds and cheated death,
some who could swim tried to help
some drowned using their last breath
to send messages back to their native land,
some called out their names and countries of origin
before succumbing to their fate!
           Among the floating corpses
           Mebrahtom raised a desperate cry
           Yohanna! Yohanna! Yohanna!
But Yohanna didn’t answer;
all alone, and in
an extreme act of love,
she brought her son into the world,
birthing him into the fish-filled sea:
yet nobody in Lampedusa
heard the seven ululations welcoming his birth!
           Because after a superhuman struggle
           Yohanna died alongside her son,
           who never saw the light of day
           and perished without even... drawing his first breath!
A baby died
drowned in the salty sea!
The baby was born and died
with its umbilical cord still unsevered!
A woman died while giving birth!
368 people died! 357 Eritreans died!
           On 3rd October
           3000 feet from Rabbit Island,
           in the heart of the Mediterranean,
           a tragedy struck the Eritrean people,
           one of many they have endured.

» Comment on this translation 0 comment(s)

About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
André Naffis-Sahely
Original language:
2016 Number 1 - SOLD OUT - The Great Flight

About the author

Original poet


RIBKA SIBHATU (1962–) was born in Eritrea and writes in Tigrinya and Italian. She was unjustly imprisoned for a year in 1979 a...

» Read more


André Naffis-Sahely

André Naffis-Sahely is a poet and translator; his translations include the Bottom of the Jar by Abdellatif Laâbi (Archipelago,...

» Read more


No Comments


Browse poems

By original language »

By issue of MPT »

Go Digital

Subscribe to the digital edition of MPT for access to all back issues and to the Exactly app.» View free trial issue

Back to top
Supported by Arts Council England

Copyright © Modern Poetry in Translation and contributors
Website design ashbydesign
Developed by Code Frontiers
Powered by Storemill