Translated from the French by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
18 years old the sea for horizon for so long dreaming of unfurling his foliage taking stock of his steps and just as the earth cannot contain the sap each spring the call keeps growing 18 years old the sea for horizon finally to obey the command roll the dice and cross the liquid wall
Why should I have to pay the price of sacrifice? asks the child of the people of peasants fedayeen & merchants who never dreamed of sleeping away from his home impervious to the call of the open sea a life in its own shadow held at gunpoint by snipers & twenty-year-old kids harnessed to death while the men in sidelocks & the believers in the return of God-the-Son- crucified-on-the-cross keep on chanting
Such Slow Birth
Two cycles intersect cycle of twilight deepening toward the black moon cycle of transformations ripening I opened The Book of the Way and its Virtue “To attain complete emptiness is to settle firmly in rest” as a child I had this knowledge & didn’t know how precious it was handed down by village elders sitting on their doorsteps surrounded by beauty they offered their faces like old cats in the sun time now to drag my chair out in front of the door
It’s not Endgame just the end of the act that saw pirates sitting on the world’s thrones playing with our lives like pawns on chessboards & derricks it’s not Endgame just the end of the act that saw men from across the sea playing out right here on this side of the Mediterranean their saga of conquistadors & gold diggers Bible in hand but of a more ancient God
Nothing to Do
Hooligans & pirates tighten the circle of hell around us God has nothing to do with it Ah to escape to the realm of myths & legends Haifa won’t be Granada & we won’t give you this gift of jumping off the cliff into a sea of fire our crystal cry in the face of the sun so much pain the heart contains so long this night of long knives & so slow this dawn to rise
Olivia Elias, born in Haifa in 1944, is a poet of the Palestinian diaspora who writes in French. In 1948 her family was exiled to Lebanon, where she lived until she was 16 years old. She then lived in Montreal, before finally settling in France. She published her first collection of poetry in 2015. Her third and most recent collection, Chaos, Traversée (“Chaos, Crossing”), appeared in 2019. Olivia Elias’ poetry is characterized by terse, laconic language, strong rhythms, and a deep sensitivity to the Palestinian cause, the plight of refugees, and human suffering in general. Her work has been published in numerous journals and in anthologies, and has been translated into English, Arabic, Spanish, and Italian. She holds Lebanese, Canadian, and French citizenship, and divides her time between Paris, Arles, and India. Her first book in English, Chaos, Crossing, will be published by World Poetry Books on Nov. 15, 2022, in Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s translation.
Kareem James Abu-Zeid, PhD, is an award-winning translator of poets and novelists from across the Arab world who translates from Arabic, French, and German. His work has earned him an NEA translation grant, PEN Center USA’s Translation Award, Poetry magazine’s translation prize, residencies from the Lannan Foundation and the Banff Centre, a Fulbright Fellowship (Germany), and a CASA Fellowship (Egypt), among other honors. His most recent translation is Najwan Darwish’s Exhausted on the Cross (NYRB Poets, 2021). He is also the author of The Poetics of Adonis and Yves Bonnefoy: Poetry as Spiritual Practice (Lockwood, 2021).