Hommes sous Hommes, II

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.


Bande de Gaza (souvenirs)

Gaza Strip (memos)

Une radio diffuse
une voix humaine
devant le silence

From a radio
a human voice
addresses silence


Des pierres chaudes
de maisons détruites
coulent à l’horizon

Warm stones
of destroyed homes
to the horizon


Des mouches attaquent
un cheval maigre
sous le ciel clair

Flies attack
a lean horse
under a clear sky


Un vieil homme traverse
au dos d’une carriole
chargée d’herbes sauvages

An old man passes
astride a cart
loaded with wild herbs


Yves Berger, John Berger, Palestine


Des enfants jouent
de toutes les couleurs
à chaque carrefour

Playing children
with their colours
at each cross-road


Des rues de sable
passent sous les fenêtres
des hôtels inoccupés

Roads of sand
pass beneath the windows
of empty dwellings


Des paires de chaussures
forment une foule dense
à l’heure de la prière

Pairs of shoes
make a dense crowd
at the hour of prayer


Sous les palmiers osseux
des carcasses de serres
s’abandonnent au soleil

Beneath lean palm trees
wrecks of greenhouses
wide open to the sun


Yves Berger


A l’entrée des tunnels
des couvertures recouvrent
le sommeil des ouvriers

Where tunnels begin
blankets cover
sleeping workers


Des filets de pêcheurs
laissent passer le vent
entre leurs mailles

Fishing nets
let the wind
through their meshes


Au large de la mer
des vagues roulent
encore ailleurs

Out at sea
waves still roll


Une voix répète
Is this life?
It’s no life!

A voice repeats
Is this life?
It’s no life!


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