Taha Muhammad Ali was forced to flee the village of his birth, Saffuriyya, in July 1948 after it was bombed by the Israeli Defense Forces during the Arab-Israeli war which had begun earlier that year.  The family fled to Jordan and returned only a year later to find that their village had been levelled and the fertile surrounding land had been handed over to Jewish co-operatives.  Muhummad Ali and his family settled finally in Nazareth, where he has lived for the last fifty years.  He owns a souvenir shop, though it is run by his two sons, and he is free to drink coffee with his friends in nearby cafes and carry on writing his poems.

Muhammed Ali is a self-educated poet, born in 1931.  He studied classical Arabic texts after selling souvenirs all day, and taught himself English so he could read the works of Steinbeck and, in translation, Maupassant and Chekhov.  In the early 1950s he began publishing short stories.  In the early 1970s his first poems were published and his souvenir shop had become an informal meeting place for literary legends.  A new collection of his poems has recently been published.

Now an elderly man, he is stooped over a stick.  Each finger of his hands is as wide as a ruler.  He had travelled from Nazareth to read his poems at an English poetry festival in a small shingle seaside village on a dark November night.  As he was introduced, he reached under his pullover for a comb, and combed through his hair, his other hand following behind to smooth the hair behind each stroke.  Then he popped a couple of pills and levered himself up out of the chair.

He read each poem in Arabic, emphasising phrases with insistent hand gestures.  Once his hand flew into the face of his attentive translator, a poet in his own right.  As the poems were read in translation, he nodded at the end of each line, apparently content that the translation was true.  He enjoyed the gentle chuckles that some lines produced, and his tabacco-brown face cracked along the old fault lines into a knowing smile.

He insisted that he finish with a new poem, not yet published in a collection of poems, and only recently translated. 

Revenge

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
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.

Nazareth
April 15, 2006

 

We cried, and people stood up to applaud him.  He wiped a tear from his own eyes and tried and failed to find a pocket in which to put his glasses away.  The audience was still applauding even as he was helped from the stage.

Links:

More on Taha Muhammad Ali
Video of Performance of Revenge

ِنْتِقام

أَحْياناً
أَتَمَنّى أَن أُبارِزَ
الشَّخْصَ الذي
قَتَلَ والِدي
وَهَدَمَ بَيْتَنا
فَشَرَّدَني
في بِلادِ النّاسِ
الضَيِّقَةِ
فَإِذا قَتَلَني
أَكونُ قَدْ ارْتَحْتُ
وَإِنْ أَجْهَزْتُ عَلَيْهِ
أَكونُ قَدِ انْتَقَمْتُ!

لكِنْ…
إِذا تَبَيَّنَ لي
أَثْناءَ المُبارَزَةِ
أَنَّ لِغَريمي أُمّاً
تَنْتَظِرُهُ
أَوْ أَباً
يَضَعُ كَفَّ يَمينِهِ
عَلى مَكانِ القَلْبِ مِنْ صَدْرِهِ
كُلَّما تَأَخَّرَ ابْنُهُ
وَلَوْ رُبْعَ ساعَةٍ
عَنْ مَوْعِدِ عَوْدَتِهِ
فَأَنا عِنْدَها
لَنْ أَقْتُلَهُ إِذا
تَمَكَّنْتُ مِنْهُ

كَذلِكَ…
أَنا لَنْ أَفْتِكَ بِهِ
إِذا ظَهَرَ لي
أَنَّ لَهُ إِخْوَةٌ وَأَخَوات
يُحِبّونَهُ
وَيُديمونَ تَشَوُّقَهُمْ إِلَيْهِ.
أَوْ إِذا كانَ لَهُ
زَوْجَةٌ تُرَحِّبُ بِهِ
وَأَطْفالٌ
لا يُطيقونَ غِيابَهُ
وَيَفْرَحونَ بِهَداياه.
أَوْ إِذا كانَ لَهُ
أَصْدِقاءٌ أَوْ أَقارِبٌ
جيرانٌ مَعارِفٌ
زُمَلاءُ سِجْنٍ
رِفاقُ مُسْتَشْفى
أَوْ خُدَناءُ مَدْرَسَةٍ
يَسْأَلونَ عَنْهُ
وَيَحْرِصونَ عَلى تَحِيَّتِه

أَمَّا إِذا كانَ وَحيداً
مَقْطوعاً مِنْ شَجَرَةٍ
لا أَبٌ وَلا أُمٌّ
لا إِخْوَةٌ وَلا أَخَواتٌ
لا زَوْجَةٌ وَلا أَطْفالٌ
بِدونِ أَصْدِقاءٍ وَلا أَقْرِباءٍ وَلا جيران
مِنْ غَيْرِ مَعارِفٍ
بِلا زُمَلاءٍ أَوْ رُفَقاءٍ أَوْ أَخْدان
فَأَنا لَنْ أُضيفَ
إِلى شَقاءِ وَحْدَتِهِ
لا عَذابَ مَوْتٍ
وَلا أَسى فَناءٍ
بَلْ سَأَكْتَفي
بِأَنْ أُغْمِضَ الطَّرْفَ عَنْهُ
حينَ أَمُرُّ بِهِ في الطَّريقِ
مُقْنِعاً نَفْسي
بِأَنَّ الإِهْمالَ
بِحَدِّ ذاتِهِ هُوَ أَيْضاً

نَوْعٌ مِنْ أَنْواعِ الإِنْتِقامِ!

 

 

 

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