Hommes sous Hommes, I

Yves Berger, Palestine map

In 2005, I went to Palestine for three weeks with my parents, my wife and our daughter, aged two. We were invited to carry out workshops with young artists and kids. A mural was painted on the wall of a playground in a camp next to Qalendia check point. We made several friends and knew some of our roots were now planted in that earth. During that time and after I wrote a long poem called Destinez moi la Palestine. Later on it was published in an Arabic/French version and printed in Jerusalem. The friends who made that publication possible kept it as a surprise and one day I unexpectedly received a copy of the book. How grateful I was.

In 2010, I was invited to do a series of readings from that book in different cities in the West Bank. Again, in the face of what I was witnessing I had no other choice than to write. This gave birth to these poems. In French they were published by Editions Samizdat under the title Hommes sous hommes: Écrits de la Palestine occupée. My father then translated them into English and a few were published in Modern Poetry in Translation and one in the Guardian.

 
 

Écrits de la Palestine occupée

Notes from occupied Palestine

L’étendue n’offre pas la liberté aux hommes
seulement un chemin brûlant sous le soleil
 
Le temps passe sans arrêt et sans issue
sur le monde que séparent deux instants
 
Le vent et la pluie érodent les parois des rochers
semblables à des crânes endormis dans la terre
 
Il y a une silhouette en contre-jour
debout sur le seuil entre ici et la mort
The distance offers men no freedom
but a scorched road under the sun
 
Time persists with no pause nor an exit
over a world split between now and now
 
The wind and rain strip the rocks
asleep in the earth like skulls
 
A silhouette stands against the light
in a doorway between death and here

 
 

Yves Berger

 
 

03.03.10
Naplouse

Au flanc des montagnes couchées
serpentent les rues de la ville
comme au-dedans d’un animal

Noires de la graisse des mouteurs
les parois des rouchers prolongent
les façades profondes des foyers

Des visages percent les murs
de leurs yeux de martyrs
ouverts entre deux mondes

Des enfants sont chaque soir
les leaders aux pieds fragiles
d’une révolution qui s’endort
dans des bras trop petits

Les mères forment les cortèges
des marriages de leurs filles
et de leurs fils à enterrer

Dans la nuit tombée
sur des ombres en fuite
une patrouille fait feu

Des bouches ouvertes soufflent
un silence entre les mots
étendus pierres après pierres

03.03.10
Naplouse

Streets twist and turn
on the mountain flanks
as do animal intestines

Black with petrol fumes
the rock faces merge
with the faces of homes

Faces glance on the walls
with the eyes of martyrs
open between two worlds

Each evening kids
with wobbly knees
whisper to the revolution
cradled in their thin arms

Mothers join the cortege
for daughters’ weddings
and sons’ obsequies

In the deep night
a patrol fires on
shadows in flight

From an open mouth comes
the silence between words
laid out like stones

 
 

Yves Berger, John Berger, Palestine

 
 

04.03.10
Dheisheh

D’étage en étage
la file des réfugiés
s’allonge contre le ciel

Les enfants du camp
l’écume à la bouche
écoutent les grand-pères

Sur le béton des ruelles
les pas se souviennent
des chemins du village

Chaque langue conserve
comme le lait maternel
le goût de l’eau salée

Les souvenirs dessinent
la forme des coquillages
à l’intérieur des oreilles

Les fenêtres s’ouvrent
sur des fenêtres ouvertes
sur un phare en exil

Nul membre n’abandonne
aucun autre membre
arraché à cette terre

De foyer en foyer
les vagues de la Nakba
se brisent sur les cloisons

04.03.10
Dheisheh

Storey after storey
refugees pile up
beneath the sky

Kids from the camp
hear their granddads
following the tide

Along asphalt alleys
footsteps recall
paths of the village

Every tongue still tastes
like a mother’s milk
the sea’s salt water

Memories make
the form of seashells
visible in the ears

Windows give on to
other windows facing
a vanished lighthouse

Here no limb
abandons another
torn from its home

In lodging after lodging
waves from the Nakba
break against party walls

 
 

John Berger, Yves Berger, Palestine

 
 

09.03.10
Modiin Highway

Nuit chaude et indifférente d’un printemps
étouffant continuelllement ses promesses

De part et d’autre de la voie rapide réservée
la terre gards en elle les morts immobiles

Sous les toits aux tonneaux de plastique noir
dorment les familles oubliées de l’après-guerre

Sur les collines conquises aux noms des victimes
des lumières jaunes coupent le monde en deux

Les champs de tirs attendant les tirs des soldats
et l’herbe se couche sous le ventre des chiens

Des fosses de chantiers s’ouvrent face au ciel
de jeunes ouvriers descendent les tiges de fer

Aucune machine ne construit d’autres machines
capables de retenir les aspirations des hommes

09.03.10
Modiin Highway

Warm night of an indifferent spring
stifling each of its awaited promises

On either side of the reserved fast road
earth embraces the unmoving dead

Below the black plastic water tanks
sleep families forgotten since 1948

On the heights stolen in the name of victims
strident yellow lights cut the world in two

Shooting ranges wait for their firing soldiers
and the grass is flattened by lying wild dogs

Into the excavations open to the sky
young workers lower iron bars

No machine can produce other machines
that can hold back human aspiration

 
 
 
 

Yves Berger, Hommes sous hommes: Écrits de la Palestine occupée was published by Editions Samizdat, Geneva in 2016.

Cover image via Palestine Open Maps
All drawings by Yves Berger
English translations by John Berger
We have published further extracts from Hommes sous Hommes by Yves Berger here.

 
 

This is part of ROOT MAPPING, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring which maps might help us live with a clear sense of where we are. ROOT MAPPING is conceived and edited by Melanie Viets.

 
 

The Learned Pig

 
 

Yves Berger

Yves Berger, born in 1976, lives and works in a small village in the French Alps. He works as a painter. His studio is built in the barn of an old farmhouse where he also makes etchings and sculpture. He has published several books of poetry and essays. His relation to the land where he lives and to the people he grew up with (mostly peasants) is an essential part of his artwork. The human figure, the human soul and the coexistence of the dead and the living are amongst his recurrent obsessions. Yves Berger has had several solo and collective exhibitions throughout Europe over the last two decades. Author photo credit: Ute Schendel