Tizita
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You can only earn—by practice and careful contemplation—
the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it.

Toni Morrison

It was in the dark. On top, between the surfaces, where sweat and semen glisten. His back taut towards my turbid body—towards the earth, towards the sky—I let loose crying hollow. I had wandered for years, nowhere to go. The places, the way I see them now, they are ember ash. But I found a way in this dark, blasted world, discovered song to bear my weight from going under.

This same night, I know I died. I mourned myself, came to life, too. Both impossible, unless anchored in love, difficult always, divine only.

To come: to America, of age, out. To become: black, secular, new world. To discover: something sacred to buoy up a world. When tongues converge, in the wake comes narrative. Bodies, languages, lament and song—among love's instruments.

* * *

I write in sutured tongue. English, I learned after Amharic had shaped my tongue's first memories. But to both Amharic and English, I am a stranger. It's an insight I learned a few years back, in tongue collapse, as I came out to my mother who could not register gay or homosexual; I could not translate either term into Amharic, nor make real approximations. Open, word-lives don't exist in my mother's tongue. Though epithets do, [End Page 509] I'd come too far to return to the dregs for resource: to name something root. (Epithets, it turns out, are not what a writer hyped them up to be: "the root that attaches us most deeply to our homeland.")

No safety in language. And still I write in this sutured tongue. The English language has irrevocably altered how I express the world. Estranged to Amharic, Ge'ez and millennia old literary tradition: partly because I was thirteen when I came to America; partly, too, I was so quiet a child, melancholy, growing up I don't remember having a voice my own. Mooring me, instead, my father's singular voice, unfettered tenderness; and icons grafting me to time beginnings, Ethiopians claiming as their own the Arc of the Covenant and first fossils of the human species.

But now, as new American, new world African, I ask myself interloper of the West, what tradition will you inherit?

* * *

Identification, key among love's properties: for it places, it envisages. Graft yourself, I hear them say, go ahead, identify. Earn it. Writers inhabit language to earn perspective, to enter new worlds. I can't think of the word perhaps, for example, without the gnawing open-endedness Baldwin conjures with it. Or, in fester I picture the underside of a dream. In trouble I hear Jessye or Mahalia, sonic depth, the blues bard sings: well, trouble, oh trouble, trouble on my worried mind, when you see me laughin', I'm laughin' just to keep from cryin'.

Discoveries in the New World provide access back to moods indigo. I am just beginning to understand the Ethiopian Azmari, the cast out troubadour, who interprets life against the current. It's in new words, new worlds, I have realized his temperament. Haunting among the Azmari's repertoire is the ballad Tizita, a term which transliterates as memory, and which the Azmari translates as reflective nostalgia. One definition for Tizita I borrow from Ellison's distillation of the blues: "an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism." And, Tizita derives its life and shape from the insistent, aching memory of lost love. At times, even, having imagined love loss, this sung memory issues a prescient melancholy.

Now, cast out, in modes old and new, I search tongue frequencies.

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Outdoing yesterday, shouldering on today, borrowing from tomorrow, renewing yesteryears, comes Tizita (wake like) hauling possessions.

Dagmawi Woubshet

Dagmawi Woubshet is an assistant professor of English...