October 03, 2011

In Memoriam Taha Muhammad Ali

Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali from Nazareth passed away.



Taha Muhammad Ali is one of the leading poets on the contemporary Palestinian literary scene. Born in 1931 in Galilee village of Saffuriya, he fled to Lebanon, together with most of the inhabitants of his village, during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. A year later he slipped back across the border with his family and settled in Nazareth, where he has lived ever since. The Saffuriya of his childhood has served as the nexus of his poetry and fiction, which are grounded in everyday experience and driven by a storyteller’s vivid imagination. He is self-taught and began his poetry career late (in 1983). Taha Muhammad Ali writes in a forceful and direct style, with disarming humor and unflinching, at times painful, honest—the poetry’s apparent simplicity and homespun truths concealing the subtle grafting of classical Arabic and colloquial forms of expression. In Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Europe, audiences have been powerfully moved by Taha Muhammad Ali’s poems of political complexity and humanity. He has published several collections of poetry and is also a short story writer.(Sakakini)

Ambergris

Our traces have all been erased,
our impressions swept away -
and all the remains
have been effaced...
there isn't a single sign
left to guide us
or show us a thing.
The age has grown old,
the days long,
and I, if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk
that was here before,
dozing like Arabian jasmine,
shimmering like the gleam of dawn,
pulsing like a star -
I, if not for that lock of camphor,
would feel not a thing
linking me
to this land.

This land is a traitor
and can't be trusted.
This land doesn't remember love.
This land is a whore
holding out a hand to the years,
as it manages a ballroom
on the harbor pier -
it laughs in every language
and bit by bit, with its hip,
feeds all who come to it.

This land denies,
cheats, and betrays us;
its dust can't bear us
and grumbles about us -
resents and detests us.
Its newcomers,
sailors, and usurpers,
uproot the backyard gardens,
burying the trees.

They keep us from looking too long
at the anemone blossom and cyclamen,
and won't allow us to touch the herbs,
the wild artichoke and chicory.

Our land makes love to the sailors
and strips naked before the newcomers;
it rests its head along the usurper's thigh,
is disgraced and defiled in its sundry accents;
there seems to be nothing that would bind it to us,
and I - if not for the lock of your hair,
auburn as the nectar of carob,
and soft as the scent of silk,
if not for the camphor,
if not for the musk and the sweet basil,
if not for the ambergris -
I would not know it,
and would not love it,
and would not go near it...

Your braid
is the only thing
linking me, like a noose, to this whore.

(ofblog)


Empty Words

Ah, little notebook,
yellow as a spike of wheat
and still as a face,
I’ve protected you
from dampness and rodents
and entrusted you with
my sadness and fear,
and my dreams—
though in exchange I’ve gotten from you
only disobedience and betrayal…
For otherwise where are the words
that would have me saying:
If only I were a rock on a hill…
unable to see or hear,
be sad or suffer!
And where is the passage
whose tenor is this:
I wish I could be
a rock on a hill
which the young men
from Hebron explode
and offer as a gift to Jerusalem’s children,
ammunition for their palms and slings!

And where is the passage
in which I wanted
to be a rock on a hill
gazing. out from on high
hundreds of years from now
over hordes ,.
of masked liberators!

And where is what belongs
to my dream of being
a rock on a hill
along the Carmel—
where I call on the source of my sadness,
gazing out over the waves
and thinking of her
to whom I bade
farewell at the harbor pier
in Haifa forty years ago
and still…
I await her return
one evening
with the doves of the sea.

Is it fair, little notebook,
yellow as a spike of wheat
and still as a face,
that you conceal
what you cancel and erase,
simply because it consists of empty words—
which frighten no enemy
and offer no hope to a friend?

from NEVER MIND, Twenty Poems and a Story, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, Gabriel Levin, Poetry dipatch

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