The Ballad of Mohamed Bouazizi

by | March 4, 2015

“The Spring of Nations, for the second time,

Turned out to be melodious bel canto.”

Czesław Miłosz, A Treatise on Poetry (1957).


A time of schism, scandal, shock,

dreams and killing drones,

a whistleblower in the west,

theocrats and thrones.


Panic spurred a country’s quest:

“Defendant, what is terror?”

“Terror is not America:

hate is a foreign error.


“Today’s discoveries are done

in labs, not libraries;

a military superpower

does as its people please.”


And so I make this song to mark

an age of overturning

when power wavered, banners waved,

and citizens were burning.


Mohamed Bouazizi lived

in Sidi Bouzid, strapped

for cash and hope: his poverty

had Bouazizi trapped.


He kept a cart, sold fruit and veg,

supported his relations,

did all he needed to survive

injustice’s privations.


More, Bouazizi had been known

for giving fruit for free

to orphans who could not afford

that vital luxury.


And Sidi Bouzid was a tough,

hardscrabble town to live in

but Bouazizi loved his home

and didn’t want to give in.


Out in midland Tunisia

the poorest foot the bill

and Bouazizi must have felt

like social overspill.


One day police, who liked to taunt

and flaunt authority,

rolled by and wrecked his livelihood

so everyone could see.


They smashed his cart and dashed his hopes.

They broke the camel’s back.

They beat him and they got away

with unprovoked attack.


So Bouazizi found a can

of oil and lit a flame

and burned out in a public space.

Now ‘martyr’ is his name.


Not right away: he slowly died

in hospital, of burns,

as hope can die, a victim of

unbearable concerns.


The president, Ben Ali went

to well-wish Bouazizi

(bad politicians like to think

recovery is easy).


Ben Ali smiled politically

but Bouazizi stayed

unconscious, in a coat of burns

no tyrant could invade.


And revolution spread across

Tunisia and soon

torches in Tunis lit the clash

of protest and platoon.


Streetfighting, supercharged with hope,

went juggernauting through

the country with a passion even

trained troops could not subdue.


With curfews, strikes, and Molotovs,

twenty-eight days on

from Bouazizi’s immolation,

the dictatorship was gone.


Ben Ali fled Tunisia

with tonnes of gold in tow

to settle in Saudi Arabia,

where rights are rare as snow.


There money speaks, as money does

in every monied state;

there statues and the statute books

agree that money’s great.


Yet freedom spreads: like dominoes

dictators, tilting, fall –

and revolution’s pendulum

swings like a wrecking ball.


Meanwhile, each spring will spiral on

to autumn, nature crinkling

time’s edges. When you turn this page,

inspect your hand: it’s wrinkling.


Image credit: Rod