Inheriting a Threadbare Political Treatise

Elleni Centime Zeleke


If the body has its own language it is because limbs and lungs are also a repository for events long forgotten by conscious memory. Peel away the walls of the body and you are bound to remove the placeholders that keep the past from spilling out towards you.

It is also true that in Addis Ababa the stray dogs beat out an endless tap-tap. Pressed against a sky filled with the colour of cyan and occasional streaks of red what this signals to me is that no one wins in a war.

The mongrels are all cross-bred with a Russian genus, not quite made for the climate but still roaming the streets: sediment of another subterranean moment that is in fact world-historical. The paws scratch the surface of rocks and pebbles, you dream that our elbows will interlock, but what happens instead is that your spine keels backwards towards incapacity.

It is also true that you cannot take in that which you want to see pour out.  I would advise you to refrain from challenging my rigidity.  Rather, retrace the cups that hold your pain, watch how the body can stand still for years, and the dogs beat out an endless tap-tap.

No one wins in a war.


I knew a woman, and a man who said he loved her. There were also rose petals, honey, political agitation, and the black tea of a bent over back. Before him flesh that hung like a jacaranda tree, vivacious colours, and the daunting command of the skin’s surface which seeks to distinguish the scent of these things.

And the last sentence before this one was always incomplete and yet it was written. In his vista there was nothing except marriage to the future, begets a capacity for rape today.


I too have cups of mint tea, morning light. But when I am a woman marking an assignment, he is an orangutan in a monk's bed. The cup of mint tea speaks to the skin's surface like chickens gnawing for food, or smoke curling over the valley; daybreak and the farmer makes his first meal.


I need to stop visiting airports. Next time I will walk to my grandfather's grave. I am convinced that I have not moved. In all of these years I have not moved.

The sound of your cello is not the same as my grandfather's kirrar. Entire landscapes can be moved by puppet strings while I remain in the audience, just looking.

Your sound is a common but rapacious grumble. I would have liked to say that it taught me to walk through filament and out of the airport towards my grandfather's grave. It would be a lie. Only the chafe of your song suggests a different notation. I was reminded to use my own feet.

My body stretches out and pushes against all of you, it has an elephant's memory for where my grandfather was buried.

Elleni Centime Zeleke was born in Ethiopia, grew up in the Caribbean and now teaches at York University in Toronto. Her essays and poems have been published in a number of journals and anthologies, most recently in Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters. “Inheriting a Threadbare Political Treatise” was written after an extended stay in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she was conducting archival research for a project on the student movement in Ethiopia in the 1960s and 70s.