Near the cattle pen
In front of my parents’ house,
I found an empty olive oil can.
Who would throw it there?
No one I knew ate so well.
I took a knife from the kitchen
And cut four holes in the tin.
I made the wheels from clay,
Beat fleshy jute leaves into string
And carefully tied it to the thing.
Vrrooom. Vrroom. Vrrrooomm.
What a great truck to pull around!
I built it a road out of sand
Painted black with powdered dung.
My sister came and I warned her,
‘Don’t you touch my truck or dare
Cross my highway,’ but she said,
‘C’mon. Let me take your car
For a spin, and I’ll teach you how to play
Handa with pebbles’ – a sissy game for boys,
Before the birth of toys.
Notes on this poem
Reesom Haile wrote ‘Before the Birth of Toys’ during a time
when he was writing a poem almost every day and publishing it immediately on the internet. The website was popular with readers in Eritrea, where Reesom lived, but also with Eritreans around the world. Each poem appeared like a morsel of daily bread, eagerly grasped by a reading public who were caught up in the nation- building of Eritrea, which won its independence in 1991.
Celebrating independence from European colonialism, many
an African nation could echo, or should I say, translate, William Wordsworth’s famous words: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
/ But to be young was very heaven’. As the 1990s unfolded, Eritrea embodied it loud and clear. And Reesom Haile’s spirit was always young. Living in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, he was constantly high-spirited, and his peers found it hard to keep up with him. His poems consistently exhibited a playful tone or, in his more serious lyrics, a playful edge. Typical of the playfulness throughout Reesom Haile’s poetry, ‘Before the Birth of Toys’ sounds like a memory from his actual childhood or, at least, some other typical Eritrean boy’s, raised in rural Eritrea and born into a family of traditional farmers.