Poetry by Liliane Atlan

The Water of Memory

High Princes, I invite you.
Tonight I offer a great feast.
An evening of long silence
so we may drink the water of memory.

Linked in a single dream,
from Pythagoras to Galileo,
a dark pleiade borders
the illuminated dead city.

Servants carry in the vessels.
High Princes, they are empty.
Our fabled and beautiful history
lies freezing in the lights of the city.

Dwell on the great sorrow
in the words of the sages.
High Princes, drink the water of memory.
Open your door to Strangers.

The Tram That Crumbled Away

I was in a tram made of earth, I alone was in a tram made of earth, which struggled on the steep slopes above the void, not stopping, crumbling away to nothing by the time it abandoned me, near a sort of haven lost in a vast emptiness.

While I called out for a miracle

Waves, hateful waves, were staring through me. With her bare hands, a peasant parted them, held them up toward the sky while I called out for a miracle, then she let them become snakes.

Star forests

Nights of star forests and the full moon
ancient old men dreamed on their beloved book
where they could hear the hermetic language of their god

In their hut with its roof of leaves and sky
they perceived the echo of survivors singing
from when the earth had ceased to tremble

When the moon was red and the stars were black
the old men fell silent they could not tell him
what they dared not think

They chanted his praises
with wild zeal but could not hear
the moaning smothered in their heart

As mothers screamed to see their children
thrown living into the flames
they prayed with even wilder devotion

Nights of star forests and the full moon
the old men allowed their heart to speak,
and, wounded, absolved Him of History.

A wondrous being lives
inanimate within us

Old men, tirelessly marching, carried on their shoulders the scrolls of ancestral law written with their blood, when night fell they raised the scrolls toward the invisible source of the world, crying out: A wondrous being lives inanimate within us.

Based on the Evidence

A wondrous being lives within us, timeworn
like the proofs of a book
no one could remember to print.

Everything will be like here
but it will be livable

Everything there will be like here
but it will be livable.
The great migration begins.
Solemn we cross our rooms.
We cross the seas.
We lose our way in a desert
without end.
We endure hunger
We still know where we want
to go
Everything will be like here but it will be livable.
These words–
we sing them because we’re glad
because we despair
because we’re at the end of our strength:
There–everything will be–

My Death and I: A Song

My death and I have lunch together
We sup together
We go to bed
We get up together

We don’t leave each other
We don’t speak to each other
We don’t love each other
We don’t see each other

I think only of her
She was born with me
She’ll disappear with me
She was born for me

She was with me in my mother
She guarded my cradle
She guarded my youth

She has protected me
like an iron glove
She lets me live
but forbids me love

She loves poetry
consumes poetry
in mad binges
but cannot be satisfied

She wants me to write
in order to live
And only to write
does she want me to live

And I dream
of a living lover
and that I am his very own
and that I am his very own

If he should come to me
my death will hold him at bay
If he resists she will force me
to send him away

For herself alone
she wants
my blood
my vital energy

These labors imposed on my heart

Birth terror
First terror
Mother terror
Again begotten
in these labors imposed on my heart
in terror of having to be re-birthed.

Hotel for the Dead: A Dream

I was in a hotel room, sitting on the floor
across from a friend who had recently
he was writing poems as he’d always
done, another was taking drugs like before
he committed suicide,
a woman was tending to her lover, a child
was crying, I was listening to the news, worried
for my family, for myself, forgetting
that I was already dead.

Dead, I speak to all my friends

My friends, my dear friends, though I am
..dead, I speak to you.
Be so tender as to listen.
I speak to you in silence for I no longer
..have a voice.
I am buried in this box that you
..have placed in the earth.
I am grateful that you weep for me.
In the grace of your friendship, I live
..a little longer.
I say, and say again, in silence, how much
..I loved you…
for, even dead, we do not cease
..to love…
..one another…


Liliane Atlan

French Holocaust writer Liliane Atlan (1923-2011) spent the war years in hiding and much of the rest of her life writing plays, novels, poetry, and nonfiction collections published by Gallimard, POL, and Editions du Seuil, among other esteemed houses. Her plays were performed at the Festival d’Avignon and other major theatre venues in Europe, Israel, Japan, and the U.S., and broadcast over Radio France Culture, among other European stations. Her most famous work, Monsieur Fugue, won numerous European and Israeli awards, and is included, in Marguerite Feitlowitz’s translation, in Plays of the Holocaust: An International Collection, edited by Elinor Fuchs and published by Theatre Communications Group. Atlan’s body of work was awarded the 1999 Prix Mémoire de la Shoah.

Marguerite Feitlowitz

Marguerite Feitlowitz's most recent book translation is Pillar of Salt: An Autobiography with Nineteen Erotic Sonnets, by Salvador Novo, introduction by Carlos Monsivais (University of Texas Press, 2014). She has translated works by Griselda Gambaro, Luis Valenzuela, Angélica Gorodischer, and Liliane Atlan, among others. Her recent criticism has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, and she co-guest edited the Spring 2014 issue of Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, whose theme is "Beyond Violence: Toward Justice," and which features contributions by Patricio Pron, Juan Gelman, Luisa Valenzuela, Laura Restrepo, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Yuri Herrera, Andrea Cote Botero, and Claudia Hernandez, among others. Feitlowitz's original fiction appears in the Spring 2015 issue of 91st Meridian.

Peuples d’Argile, Forets d’Etoiles. Copyright (c) Editions l’Harmattan, 2000. English translation copyright (c) Marguerite Feitlowitz, 2015.