Taha’s Creative Revenge

“In my poetry,” Taha Muhammad Ali says, “there is no Palestine, no Israel. But, in my poetry, suffering, sadness, longing, fear, and this is, together, make the results: Palestine and Israel. The art is to take from life something real, then to build it anew with your imagination.”


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,
neighbours 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 neighbours 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

Taha, who lost his family home to Israel in the 1948 War and lived in Nazareth until his death in 2011, rebuilds anew with imagination in this acutely aware poem.  Ruminating about revenge (but way too kind to enact violence), the poet wanders into the open field of empathy and  imagines his enemy’s mothers and fathers in vivid detail. Then he goes to another condition: What if his enemy, the one who killed his father, has no tribe or human connection: that would be death on earth.

Real revenge would be to ignore this lonely enemy by making him a nonperson.  He would “convince himself” that would be enough revenge.  Convince himself.  Taha knew that these acts of humanity come from discipline and training.  Turning the pits of pain into something else requires enormous courage.  The imagination holds the key to new reality.


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One Response to Taha’s Creative Revenge

  1. Tom says:

    Splendid poem! Monumental! Through the commentary we are exposed to the effort, the passion, required by the supreme act of revenge, indifference. No quarter is given to the self-serving “option” of connecting. So, thanks to your commentary, I can feel the discipline of this imaginative ideal!

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