Soumaya Susi is a local government researcher in Gaza as well as a striking poet. Her work has been translated into many languages, and appeared in English in Nathalie Handal's The Poetry of Arab Women.
PEN Atlas are proud to present a new poem and two new short stories by Susi on the blog, thanks to our translators Christina Phillips, Sawad Hussain, and S. El Omary.
Thoughts in the Dark
The darkness brings fears and ideas you’d never dare to think in the light of day. You’re good at this game. The daily interruption to the electricity forces you to think in a particular way, according to a completely different logic. You give up your usual rituals and adopt new ones in keeping with the imposed darkness. You contemplate the romantic nature of candles and the night-time voices you’ve forgotten. You count the stars like the ancients did, except stars these days are deceptive; you think you see one but when you look for it the next night it’s changed course in order to carry out another task. You return to the old broadcasts which you assigned to a distant, forgotten past but are now forced to listen to learn about the death, roar and destruction going on around you. You relax a little and wait for morning, when you can listen to everything that happened while the lights were out last night on the radio in the taxi on your way to work. You go to work ready for new thoughts, desperate to find yourself amid the heap of routine. Normal work means perseverance and carrying out daily tasks assigned to you or the area you work in. It means collecting your salary at the end of the month to spend on necessities, though it hardly covers them.
Then your salary suddenly vanishes without any explanation for your children, who are dreaming of new summer clothes, new games, or even just some sweets. It vanishes and thoughts about getting along without it, an advance on your salary or recuperating some of what you’ve earned in the past few months grow. You get a bit of cash from here and there and you take out everything you’ve saved during your working life only to find yourself surrounded by columns of debts that crowd your thoughts whenever you try to sleep.
You keep going. Walking, eating, drinking, going to work every morning, meeting up with your friends, or those of them left. Something appears on the horizon and strikes the electricity station. The debates about how to manage your money are replaced with new worries. Do you have enough candles for tonight? Is there enough gas to light the long evenings? What will you do with all your time without electricity, without television or the computer, even without a fan in a summer whose heat took you by surprise, as though it was joining forces with everything else against you.
What will you do?
You sit in your room and tell yourself that you’re better off without fans and air-conditioners. You smoke a cigarette and discover things around you that you hadn’t noticed before. You recall conversations with your children for the thousandth time. You wait for the current to offer you a window onto the world and take you out of your lonely prison in this stony city.
Your endeavour to live by a different logic, one that befits your new lifestyle and the altered social and economic circumstances, is usually successful. But it leaves scars inside you. It leaves a burning in your soul for the life that is escaping you, the days that are slipping away from you while you are silent and ignorant of what’s going on around you. Perhaps everything around you is ignorant of you too. Forgotten in a remote corner of the world, you’re good at isolation and intentionally drift into it. You hear many melodies but don’t find your own. You read a lot of books and novels. The world goes on around you but there’s no place for you in it. Perhaps in an effort to release you from your addiction to communicating with others over the internet electricity has become your ally, for it prevents you communing with the hypothetical life that you created for yourself and lived happily with in all its details. You’re forced to withdraw, unable to refuse or complain, acquiescing to your options in a stony country on a forgotten shore. What do you think about?
Perhaps of nothing!
Of what will happen.
Of the contradictions around you.
You keep smiling, in an effort to remind yourself that something will change.
Translated by Christina Phillips.
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