translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
A multimedia illustration with two female heads, identical and facing one another but looking upwards
Asma Ghanem / Courtesy of the artist

Hunger strike, fortieth day*

Your bodies flutter on the ceiling
of the room I can see your slow gestures
the small bones in the joints
of your hands your eyes where the night rises

I must cross the pain again
listen to your heart that’s growing
weaker & weaker
witness this madness
the body devouring itself
your last offering to freedom

around you the barking
of the jailers and their dogs while
your life goes just like that sacrificed
to their senseless dream of conquest

Translation from the French

Author’s note: 1,700 Palestinian prisoners went on hunger strike in June 2017 to earn respect for their most basic rights. As of the fortieth day, 800 were still refusing to eat.

Olivia Elias, born in Haifa in 1944, is a poet of the Palestinian diaspora who writes in French. After a childhood in Beirut, she moved to Montreal, then Paris. Her first book in English translation, Chaos, Crossing and Other Poems, will be published by World Poetry Books in 2022.

Kareem James Abu-Zeid is an award-winning translator of authors from across the Arab world. His most recent translation is Najwan Darwish’s Exhausted on the Cross, the subject of the featured review in the Spring 2021 issue of WLT.