Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On the Death of Taha Muhammad Ali

Recent news of the passing of Taha Muhammad Ali brought me back to his poem, collected in "Come Together: Imagine Peace," which ends:

After we die,
and the weary heart
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we've done,
and on all that we've longer for,
on all that we've dreamt of,
all we've desired
or felt,
hate will be
the first thing
to putrefy within us.

Here's another poem that's circulating:

REVENGE by Taha Muhammad Ali
translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin

At times ... I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise ... I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—-as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

April 15, 2006


Maureen said...

Just yesterday I put together a post about this poet and ordered the Adina Hoffman biography of him. There is a deep sense of humanity in his work. He understood what poetry means.

Lyle Daggett said...

A basic selection of Taha Muhammad Ali's poems, So What, is available in a bilingual edition from Copper Canyon Press. The publisher's page for the book is here.

Philip Metres said...

Thanks, Maureen, have you posted yet? I didn't see it yesterday.

And thanks for the link, Lyle.