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New cycles

A freedom song

Atieno washes dishes,
Atieno plucks the chicken,
Atieno gets up early,
Beds her sacks down in the kitchen,
Atieno eight years old,
Atieno yo.

Since she is my sister’s child
Atieno needs no pay,
While she works my wife can sit
Sewing every sunny day:
With her earnings I support
Atieno yo.

Atieno’s sly and jealous,
Bad example to the kids
Since she minds them, like a schoolgirl
Wants their dresses, shoes and beads
Atieno ten years old.
Atieno yo.

Now my wife has gone to study
Atieno is less free.
Don’t I keep her, school my own ones,
Pay the party, union fee,
All for progress: aren’t you grateful
Atieno yo?

Visitors need much attention,
All the more when I work night.
The girl spends too long at the market,
Who will teach her what is right?
Atieno is raising fourteen,
Atieno yo.

Atieno had a baby
So we know that she is bad.
Fifty fifty it may live
And repeat the life she had
Ending in post-partum bleeding,
Atieno yo.

Atieno’s soon replaced.
Meat and sugar more than all
She ate in such a narrow life
Were lavished on her funeral.
Atieno’s gone to glory,
Atieno yo.


African Women's Poetry
Stella and Frank Chipasula





There are a few feelings that this poem evokes in me The one is the patterns in which we let our lives fall. Once there is a form in direction to it we often let it run its course without stepping in and saying that we want more, we don’t just want what is predestined. I think that we often see bad patterns in other people’s lives but that we don’t have the courage to step in and make a change or even suggest a change. We all know that apathy is what is killing our society in the 20th century but we can even stop that train of destructive behavior. When we see that a child or a woman is in a situation where her life is miserable or worthless we need to speak out. When people are racist or cruel we need to speak out we can no longer sit by and say: “I don’t want to get involved.” Every time you do that, you are breaking down a part of your society a part of who you are. We can make changes in the lives of others, we can make changes in our own lives. Our lives and death need not just be a part of a repeated cycle.

26 May 1997

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