Poem 1: “Friend”

“Friend” by Hlín Leifsdóttir

(translated from Icelandic to English by Meg Matich)

Before it’s too late to turn back

he hangs his black coat on the rack in the anteroom

hesitates, just a little

and then sheds his shadow, too

“Wait here, friend,” he says,

gently

as if to a faithful black dog

too innocent to follow

“I won’t be long”

The draught tells him that he won’t be coming back

He doesn’t know that, before he’s even crossed the threshold,

his shadow has snuck away

it bleeds into the crisp darkness outside

When nobody’s watching

“Rafiki” na Hlín Leifsdóttir

(hili shahiri limetafsriwa kutoka kwenye lugha ya Kizungu hadi Kiswahili na Peter Ngila Njeri)

Kabla wakati hujaisha

Mwanamme yule anaanika koti lake nyeusi kwenye raki ukumbini

anasita, kidogo tu

halafu anakitoa kivuli chake, pia   

“ngojea hapa, rafiki,” anasema

kwa upole

ni kama anamwambia mbwa mwaminifu

mwaminifu zaidi hawezi fuata

“Sitakawia”

 Upepo mdogo chumbani unamwambia hatorudi   

Hajui ya kuwa, hata kabla hajavuka mlangoni,

Kivuli chake kimepotea

kinaongeza uzito kwenye giza nje

wakati hakuna mwenye anatazama 

This is a song by “the artistic ambient spoken poetry duet “Hlín Leifsdóttir & Morton.” Morton is an artist’s name for the Greek composer Vasilis Chountas, also known as Whodoes. This song is the first release from our upcoming album in collaboration with The Institute for Experimental Arts, Athens, Greece.

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Poem 2: “Decision”

“Decision” by Hlín Leifsdóttir

(translated from Icelandic to English by Meg Matich)

When she realizes the situation is hopeless

she decides to leave herself behind in the mirror

its frame, gilded

surrounded by pictures of dead relatives

She shows up without herself at the restaurant

“You look great,” says her enemy.

“You’ve really lost weight.”

“Uamuzi” na Hlín Leifsdóttir

(hili shahiri limetafsriwa kutoka kwenye lugha ya Kizungu hadi Kiswahili na Peter Ngila Njeri)

Yule mwanadada anapongundua ya kuwa hali yake haina matumaini

anaamua kujiacha kwenye kioo

 fremu yake, imezungukwa na dhahabu

imezungukwa na picha za watu wa ukoo waliokufa

Anaenda kwenye hoteli bila nafsi yake

“Unapendeza sana,” adui yake anasema.

“Kweli umepoteza uzito.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Poem 3: “Do Not Ask”

“Do Not Ask” by Hlín Leifsdóttir

(translated from Icelandic to English by the author)

Do not ask for her

as the sky wilts

from the autumn leaves

As black birds fly

circle after circle

in the shrivelled air

drawing a vanished sun

do not ask for her

As the ground beneath you withers 

from the red plastic bucket

that a child left behind

Do not ask for her

Later

on the beach

scorched by an abandoned sandcastle

as you wait for your ship

look away

but do not ask for her

Later still

on the streets of Paris

when they ask you

      pretend that you never heard of her

And if the word gets carried by the wind

all the way to Rome

      act as though you never heard her name

Much later

on a winter’s day in Athens

when you feel her name break forth

   like a kiss

   taste it in silence

   but don’t let it leave your lips

Instead, look directly into their eyes

as you deny her

And later

when you finally arrive in the city 

that lost its name

and ever since 

they simply call it “the city”

Do not ask for her

least of all here

And when you see a sun

come to a halt in mid-air

for it has become 

much too red

to know whether it sets or rises

but you know

that you just missed your flight home

then do not ask for her

Not until it’s too late

and you yourself dissolve

into the question you never asked

As the flowers beneath you wither

and suns in distant galaxies explode

and dreams come to an end

For in the end

everything will dissolve

into a question

without an answer

“Usiulize” na Hlín Leifsdóttir  

(hili shahiri limetafsriwa kutoka kwenye lugha ya Kizungu hadi Kiswahili na Peter Ngila Njeri)

Usimuulizie yule mwanadada

Wakati anga linaponyauka

Kutoka kwenye majani ya vuli

Wakati ndege weusi wanaporuka

kutoka mduara hadi mwingine

kwenye hewa liliopooza

huku wakichora jua lilipotoweka

usimuulizie yule mwanadada

Wakati ardhi linapokauka chini yako

kutoka kwenye ndoo ya plastiki nyekundu

yenye mtoto aliiacha nyuma

Usimuulizie yule mwanadada

Baadaye kwenye pwani

unapochoma na ngoma la mchanga lilipoungua

unapoisubiri meli yako

tazama mbali

lakini usimuulizie yule mwanadada

Bado baadaye

kwenye mitaa ya mjii wa Paris

wanapokuuliza

     jifanye ya kuwa hujawahi msikia yule mwana dada

Na kama maneno yatabebwa na upepo

hadi mji wa Roma

      jifanye kama hujawahi lisikia jina la yule mwanadada

Baadaye kabisa

siku ya majira ya baridi kwenye mji wa Athene

unapolisikia jina lake likizuka   

   kama busu

   lionje kwa kimya

   lakini usiitikie liache midomo yako

Badala yake, watazame kwenye macho yao

unapomkana yule mwanadada  

Na baadaye

hatimaye unapofika kwenye mji

uliopoteza jina lake

na tangu hizo siku

kwa kifupi wanauita “mji”  

Usimuulizie yule mwanadada

 angalau ya yote hapa

Na unapoliona jua

likisimama kwenye anga 

kwa kuwa

limekuwa nyekundu Zaidi

halijui kama huwa linatua au huwa linachomoza

lakini unajua

ya kuwa umekosa safari yako ya ndege kuelekea nyumbani

basi usimuulizie yule mwanadada

Muulizie wakati unapokaribia kuisha unageuka

kuwa swali yenye hukuuliza

Wakati maua yanaponyauka chini yako

na jua kwenye dunia za mbali linalipuka

na ndoto zinafika mwisho

Kwa sababu mwishoye

kila kitu kitageuka

kuwa swali

lisipo na jibu

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Hlín Leifsdóttir is a classical singer and writer from Iceland. These poems were originally written in Icelandic, one of the oldest living languages in the world whose survival, as is true of so many smaller languages today, is threatened. Her poems: Friend, Whiteweight and Decision, are translated to English by Meg Matich (meglenska.is). “In 2021 Oprah Daily named Meg Matich one of the best translators of the year.” Her poem, Whiteweight, received first prize in a competition by The Student Paper, the paper of the University of Iceland, in 2019. Friend and Decision were first published in a special Icelandic edition of the American literary journal The Café Review.

Peter Ngila Njeri is a co-author (with Isabell Kempf) of Changing the World While Changing Diapers. He is a recipient of an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award and an Ebedi International Writers Residency Fellow. He was a Judge for the inaugural Chingano Short Story Prize. Peter lives in Nairobi.

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