Literature: Beneath a Pile of Rubble

Image of Djamal AmraniAlgerian poet Djamal Amrani was born in 1935 in Sour El Gozlane. Central to his life and work were his involvement in the Algerian liberation movement, and his arrest and torture by the French Army for participating in a 1956 student strike. Amrani was imprisoned for two years for his revolutionary activities, and then expelled to France. From this ordeal came his moving autobiographical narrative Le Témoin (The Witness), published in 1960 by Les Éditions de Minuit. He was a career diplomat and journalist before he decided to devote himself to writing and to his radio broadcasts, which drew a wide audience with such shows as “Uninterrupted Poetry.” He received the Pablo Neruda medal in 2004 for his body of work, published between 1964 and 2003. His books include Soleil de notre nuit (Sun of Our Night, 1964), L’été de ta peau (The Summer of Your Skin, 1982), and La nuit du dedans (The Night Within, 2003). He died in Algiers in 2005.

The poet eulogizes the revolutionary fighter and guerilla leader of Algeria’s National Liberation Front, Ali la Pointe.

Pour Ali la Pointe (Tribute to Ali la Pointe)

Here where each day calls out to our suffering

Here where each step chains our desire for hope

Here where everything cries out misfortune violence famine

Here where blood is confirmed silently and grief gains ground

He died. Died buried under a pile of rubble

While he trampled hatred down with his proud blood

So that the roots of his impatient people

Would grow knotty in the shadow of the flag

Gray tears, so slow to cool

Endurances curved round the sacred fire

Because they wanted to condemn our long

Arid thankless processions to the shadows

Because they wanted to tear up our lives

At the borders of oblivion

Ali La Pointe, son of a land that took up arms

Sole penance, disturbing spacious nights

Who wrestled down infamy, devoured disdain

At first sight of their guns


Here he is indicting at one more meeting

Their blood-gorged breath; he is there

For those who know the universe at the dark hour

Of Servitudes

Furies of one shared past!

His face—mirror of cruelties—where a chorus of cries

Fuses our hope, sharpens our freedom

Here he is again, living hostage in the wrinkles around

Our eyes where the new sun has driven away

Shame and emptiness forever. I say: spotted, wrinkled, polished fruits.

We sow because death is determined

Because death is stronger than hunger

O mother country, he called you Certainty before his rapture

Then gave himself to the flames to restore

Your sovereign brightness.


Yesterday strapped down once more by insults of the lords and masters

Swallowed up by incest misery

He loved the humble, set tenderness free

Devoured the past

At the multiple hour of inheritance

When our joy tells the beads of present freedoms

When his name is whispered in our silences

I cry out: Child of the Casbah

Spring thaw on the ramparts

You broke the chains of the forbidden gardens.

The poetry was first published in The Words Without Borders literary Magazine in January, 2019.

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