Translated from the French
by James Kirkup
The populus tree rose up there in all its fullness.
With my liking of assonance, I saw in it an infinity of peoples,
Populations of the lost come to slake their thirst at the brink of my fatigue.
I came and laid me down beneath its shade.
It made me happy to think that the mere sight of me
Brought it respite from wandering so long among branches and roots.
For me, it had dropped anchor, the tree-voyager.
For me, it had surrendered its arms, the tree-warrior.
And there I lay
A man unimpaled by any martyrdom,
Saved by the beauty of suicide's attraction
Transformed into a vast appetite for all that dwells within reach,
But that forever refuses to be possessed.
Vast and without bolts was the house of my father. Relatives from the country would come and rest there as they passed through the town. Each one had his rifle slung from the shoulder. I asked one of them if he had already killed with it. "Yes", he told me, "a whole lot of partridges, which I usually bring down with the first shot."
Another told me that each of us bears his own death within him. He repeats it to himself, like a refrain. A song from the good old days. Then that was all.
Hearing him talk like that, my aunt, who was superstitious, retorted: "Why do you speak of death? We do not die, we emigrate."
They were people of the vastnesses, with a simplicity of soul. Each had his rifle slung from the shoulder. And in their minds there jostled memories of partridges brought down with the first shot, of wild boars dropped dead in their tracks, of fogs you could cut with a knife deep in the depths of the forests, of a common felicity in having good thoughts about death.
This woman friend called a talking strike. She forced herself to say only the strictly necessary each time she felt her brain giving way and reverting to those obscure forces from an inadequately tranquillised and perhaps permanently sick past. Her whole effort became second nature and her contented habit consisted in stopping up inside her head that endless unscrolling of images, those avalanches of peevish, vengeful reminiscences.
I always admire the light-heartedness with which, once all that has passed over, she pursues her postponed reading, her dance classes, and what she calls her spaced-out loves. And, the interminable romance in which she narrates the exploits of a father she formerly detested, rehabilitated now as a leading figure of the Resistance.
from La Revue d'Etudes Palestiniennes, Summer 2001.
Reprinted courtesy Banipal magazine from Banipal No 12, Autumn 2001.