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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

contemplation

Just over a year ago I went to a poetry festival and heard this poem for the first time.  It has stayed with me, and I thought others might like to read it again, or for the first time.

It seems a shame when something that should be framed, hanging on the wall, a constant beacon, gets lost under a virtual pile of papers.  I’m glad the poet’s name stands out in the Tag Cloud I’ve added to the side bar on my blog.  I like the way the cloud is made up of all the things I’ve written about, that matter to me, so that the words come to define me, accidentally, without me noticing.

This year some friends went to the same poetry festival, and came to eat with us afterwards, but nothing seemed to have grabbed their attention like this forgiving poem on revenge, though the poetic lawyer read a few of his poems – a memory of his father, and the obligatory poem about a cat. I asked him, as a joke, whether he had a poem about a cat, because poets always write about cats (and I don’t like cats very much and wonder if this means that I won’t like poets very much), and, unsurprisingly, he had written about cats, and so he read that. I’d print it here, but it’s too rude.

In the summer we took our daughters to hear Margaret Atwood recite some of her poems. We sat on the floor, and could barely see her as she hid behind her lectern.  She read several about cats, including one about her favourite cat who always came and slept on her face, and she described his neat little pink bum hole. And Lola B only remembered that one line from all the poems that Margaret Atwood had read, and I laugh as I remember, because it seemed like her revenge on her parents who were trying to educate her, and because I cannot remember any other lines either.

Our lawyerly poet also coined a new way of describing our daughters which I liked very much though it took me a long time to decipher his handwriting.  I wonder if all poets have illegible handwriting too.

[With thanks to Sami for the loan of a photo that I’ve wanted to use for a while.]

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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