Taha Muhammad Ali (1931-2011)

Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali has died at the age of 80. Adina Hoffman  wrote a biography of Taha called My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness, and her husband Peter Cole has translated his poetry.

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

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4 Responses

  1. Poo says:

    Lovely poem.

  2. Di says:

    Thank you. This poem was an unexpected moment of beauty on a day when all the news of the world seemed bad. I’m sorry Taha Muhammad Ali is dead. He seems like a man required by the world in these days.

  3. Steve Kowit says:

    Fine, moving poem. Totally accessible, straight-ahead, no fashionable obscurity, “experumental” rhetorical malarkey, or need to hide genuine feeling. Antithetical to the sort of thing published endlessly in American poetry journals–especially the ones with avant-garde pretensions. Like all Palestinian-Israelis he was a third-class citizen of that malignantly racist state.

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