Migration of Stars

Olivia Elias
Translated from the French by Kareem James Abu-Zeid

In this country the stars were not fixedthey could easily fly off    in a single go    migrate toregions where happiness    is less precariousand that's precisely what happenedin fact it was that way with everything    life itselfcould fly off    the water stop flowing    the houseand field vanish    just like that    in their place    aWall blocking the horizona concrete house sprang up    followed soon bythousands of others    all the sameliving nearby was like camping    on the edge of avolcano ready to blow    at night the lava gushedout    the wolves prowled    with their teeth baredthe women threw stones    tied knots in theirhandkerchiefs    hung blue beads and small crossesaround the children's necks    there were more ofthem every daydo you know the sound of an olive tree beinguprooted?or of a bullet    striking a man    right between theeyes? 

Migration des étoiles

Dans ce pays les étoiles n'étaient pas stabiliséeselles pouvaient tout aussi bien s'envoler d'un seulcoup    migrer vers des contrées où le bonheur estmoins précaireet c'est ce qui arrivaen fait il en était ainsi de tout    la vie même pou-vait s'envoler    l'eau s'arrêter de couler    la màisonet le champ s'évanouir    comme ça pschitt    à leurplace    un Mur bouche l'horizonune maison de béton surgissait    bientôt suivie demilliers d'autres       toutes semblableshabiter auprès était comme camper    au bord d'unvolcan prêt à exploser    la nuit les laves jaillis-saient    les loups rôdaient     babines  retrousséesles femmes avalent beau lancer des cailloux    faire desnœuds à leur mouchoir    accrocher des perles bleuesou de petites croix    au cou des enfants    il y en avaittous les jours davantagesavez-vous le bruit que fait un olivier qui s'écroule rac-ines à l'air?et celui d'une balle frappant un homme en plein front?

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Author shot of Olivia Elias

A poet of the Palestinian diaspora, Olivia Elias was born in Haifa in 1944, and writes in French. Her family took refuge in Lebanon in 1948, where she lived until the age of 16. She then moved to Montréal, and finally to France. Characterized by terse language and strong rhythms, her poetry shows a deep sensitivity to the Palestinian cause, the plight of refugees, and human suffering. Her collection Chaos, Crossing translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, was one of World Literature Today’s 75 Notable Translations of 2022. Her chapbook Your Name Palestine, co-translated by Sarah Riggs and Jeremy Victor, is forthcoming from World Poetry Books.

Headshot of Kareem James Abu-Zeid

Kareem James Abu-Zeid, PhD, is a 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, the Sarah Maguire Prize, 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 translations are Olivia Elias’ Chaos, Crossing (World Poetry Books, 2022) and 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. The online hub for his work is www.kareemjamesabuzeid.com.

Cover of Chaos Crossing by Olivia Elias

"Each of Olivia Elias’s powerful poems sparkles with the unexpected: exile puts down roots in time, healing is a Ferris wheel, and loss a slough that leads to language."
- Jennifer Croft

"Olivia Elias, child of the Nakba, is a world citizen, resident at one time or another of Lebanon, Canada, France. But as a poet, she remains a Palestinian, inhabited by the landscape, the language, creating lyrics that speak the sorrow of displacement, and a memory vaster and deeper than any one woman’s, with a restraint that dignifies both grief and rage."
- Marilyn Hacker

"This book is a fierce and tender odyssey around the world and deep inside the human psyche."
- Sylvie Baumgartel

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