The Song of the Poor Man

A poor man doesn’t know
how to eat with a rich man.
When he eats fish
he begins with the head.

If you invite a poor man
he comes without manners:
He comes licking his lips
upsetting the platter in eagerness.

The poor man has no reserves.
If invited, he comes in a hurry
with the blood of his lice
dirtying his fingernails.

The face of the poor man
is haggard, and furrowed
with the hunger and thirst
that are in his vitals.

Poverty is no state
for a mortal man.
It turns him into a beast
fit for feeding on grass.

Poverty is no right thing
when it falls to a man’s lot,
though he be noble-born
he has no success.


From “Popular Verse of the Swahili Tradition”

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