FOUR POEMS by Olivia Elias, trans. Jérémy Victor Robert

/ / Poetry, Translation
Headshot of Olivia Elias

Day 21, Words Are Too Poor, October 28, 2023

words are too poor        but I have only them
my only wealth
empty my hands       & so great the sufferings

here again       I press my arms around my chest
here again       I get into this old habit of covering the page with little
squares filled with black ink

the little squares of our erasure

I write what I see     said Etel Adnan* who knew a lot about
mountains’ strength as well as Catastrophe

I also know the power of this Mount facing the sea
Carmel of my very early days       Mount Fuji of absence
& denial around which I gravitate     above it the
black crows of desolation

as I know all about our Apocalypse which keeps on repeating
repeating       the earth turning on its axis       the sun that veils its face

here’s what I see
the madness of the overarmed Occupying State
crushing bodies & souls     live on screens       at least until
night falls       a night of the end of the world       only
pierced by ballistic flashes

in Sabra & Shatila the spotlights
     illuminated the massacre’s scene
today in this Mediterranean Strip of sand
     total darkness shields Horror

the sky explodes in a thousand pieces amongst
monstrous mushrooms of black smoke      the time to
count one two three       towers collapse one
after the other   like bowling pins their inhabitants
inside     then get into action the steel monsters

flattening the landscape      they call it
(translation: converting this ghetto sealed off on all sides
into a 21st-century Ground Zero)

everyone wondering       When will my time come?
& parents writing their children’s name on their small wrists
for identification (just in case)

no water      no food      no fuel & electricity       & no medicine
decided the Annexationist Government’s Chief

let’s finish this        once & for all & forever       they shout
relying on the unconditional support of
their powerful         Allies the ones primarily responsible
for our fate by writing it off on the bloody chessboard
of their best interests

as if their contribution to our erasure redeemed their crimes

Hear Ye       Hear Ye
proclaims America’s great Chief, waving his veto-rattle
Absolute safety for the Conquerors

Hear Ye       Hear Ye
chorus the mighty Allies

Gaza / 400 square kilometers/not a single safe place /2.3 million people /half of them children / hungry /thirsty/injured /desperately searching for missing family members dying under the rubble

& Death  the  big  winner

they should know that souls cannot
be imprisoned     no matter how tight the rope
around the neck      & how strong
the acid rains & firestorms

One day, however, one day will come the color of orange/
/a day like a bird on the highest branch**

where we will sit
in the place                       left empty
in our name
in the great human House

*Etel Adnan, “I write what I see,” in Journey to Mount Tamalpais (Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press, 1986; Brooklyn: Litmus Press, 2021).

**“One Day, However, One Day,” from Louis Aragon’s homage in Le Fou d’Elsa (1963) to Federico García Lorca, who was murdered, in August 1936, by Franco’s militias.

DAY 74, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POETS, December 20, 2023    

instability   a general rule
it seems a new ocean’s on the verge
of emerging  in
& floating between
could affect not only people or land
but also the seasons     I experienced it 

of fall I didn’t see a single thing
this year   the acacia’s
color even changed without
my noticing 

one morning    looking through
the window    I realized
it was there
at its feet a carpet of yellow
leaves littered the ground 

nothing to keep it warm
to the cold   icy rain   missiles 

& here I was    & still I am
glued to the screen
startled by every explosion
of the red-little-ball
clinging to the glittering

as soon as one of the
flesh-eating-red-balls hits
the ground a sheaf of fire
bursts   followed
by a huge black smoke

day & night (even
more so at night) keeps on
going the hypnotic

Day 74
74 days of this 

will spring come back
or only   a long winter
of ignominy   cold   hunger 

history will remember
there will always be poets
to tell the martyrdom
of the Ghetto People 

NOTE: An earlier version of this translation appeared on 128 Lit website, December 28, 2023.


At regular intervals shaking his rattle   carved with the word veto   the Grand Chief of America takes the floor for an urbi et orbi statement

With the utmost firmness

broadcast on a loop
in newspapers on screens
around the world






Iron balls blazing
in the sky
black & read whirls

it’s raining
black ashes
east bank not west

with the utmost

We support the Conquerors’
Right to Security



The devil is in the detail. Colin Powell–former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State to the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, between 2001 and 2005–was said to have placed great importance on this. Unfortunately for him and the legacy he leaves to history, he broke that rule on one memorable occasion

It was on February 5, 2003, when he called for a military crusade against Iraq on the podium of the United Nations, based on false evidence of weapons of mass destruction. His effort resulted in the very thing it was supposed to prevent–the deaths of hundreds/hundreds of thousands of Iraqis–& plunged the country into widespread chaos, which is still unfolding today

That day, UN officials covered with a blue veil a tapestry hanging at the entrance of the Security Council representing Guernica, the monumental work painted by Picasso at the request of the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War. Twenty-seven square meters commemorating the stormy & total destruction of the small town of the same name by the German & Italian air force, on April 26, 1937


In March 2021, the tapestry was returned to the Rockefeller family who had loaned it for 35 years & wanted it back. Has it been replaced? With what work? I don’t know, but I’ve got an idea. Let’s offer a cubist sculpture/assemblage of 550 stones extracted from our lands on which Settlers, protected by militias/soldiers & courts, are having a great time

Upon each of these stones
that capture the light so
is an inscription: the name of
a village
from yesterday and today
that was

May a blue veil cover it when the Guardians of the ghetto & the bantustans take the floor

JÉRÉMY VICTOR ROBERT is a translator between English and French who works and lives in his native Réunion Island. He published French translations of Sarah Riggs’s Murmurations (APIC, 2021, with Marie Borel), Donna Stonecipher’s Model City (joca seria, 2020), and Etel Adnan’s Sea & Fog (L’Attente, 2015). He recently translated Bhion Achimba’s poem, “a sonnet: a slaughter field,” which was published on Poezibao’s website, and Michael Palmer’s Little Elegies for Sister Satan, excerpts of which were posted online by Revue Catastrophes. Together with Sarah Riggs, he translated Olivia Elias’ Your Name, Palestine (World Poetry Books, 2023).