The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Poetry from Nazareth


After reading an excerpt from Adina Hoffman's biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, I've put her wonderfully titled work on my reading list. Here's a taste: 
Taha was born and grew up in Saffuriyya, a Galilee village that Israel destroyed in the wake of the 1948 war, and most of his poems well up from the hard ground of that setting. Cunningly combining a plain-spoken register with an idiosyncratic (sometimes biting, sometimes mournful) storytelling sense, these are quietly sophisticated lyrics, many of them populated by “simple” characters like the trusting and doomed peasant-everyman Abd el Hadi. These poems are engaged and political in the deepest sense – the word, after all, comes from the Greek politikos, “of a citizen” – though they eschew the direct approach to the so-called Struggle that is the hallmark of the “poetry of resistance” written by many of Taha’s peers and by the next, most acclaimed generation of Palestinian poets. Younger than Taha, Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al Qasim, for instance, began to write much earlier and came to widespread fame almost as soon as they did. Taha has often likened his own poetic method to what he calls in English “bill-i-ar-des”: the word has four syllables when he says it. “You aim over here – ” a long, gnarled, yet delicately mottled farmer’s finger points to the right – “to strike over there.” The finger bends sharply to the left.

Then a recent discussion lead a good friend to send me some links to translations of Ali's work, and it is so excellent I thought I'd share--Arabic and English version are after the jump. Here's hoping that a full collection of his poems is translated into English soon. (And thanks, Mandy). 

لقــاء فــي مطــار محايــد

شعــر: طــه محمــد علــي



وكنا من ضُحى النبعِ



"ماذا  تكره..

ومن تُحِب؟!”


من خَلفِ أهدابِ الفُجاءة


يُسرعُ ويُسرعْ

كظل سحابِة الزُرْزُورْ:

"اكرهُ الرحيلَ...

أحبُّ النبعَ والدربَ

واعبُدُ الضُحى!”


فأزهرَ لوز

وشدَتْ في الايكِ أسرابُ العنادِلْ!




عُمرُه الآن عقودٌ أربعةْ

يا للْجواب من السؤالْ


عُمرُه عُمرُ رحيلك

يا لَلْسؤآلِ من الجوابْ.


يا للْمُحالْ!

ها نحن في مطارٍ مُحايِِدْ..

على شفا صُدفةٍ




وها أنتِ

تُعيدين السؤالْ؟!

يا لَلْمُحالِ من المُحالِْ!



ولم تعرفيني.

"أهذا أنتَ؟!”

ولم تُصَدِّقي.


انفجرتِ تسألين:

"إن كنتَ أنتَ أنتَ

فماذا تكره

ومن تُحبْ؟!”



يغادرُ الشُرفةْ..

يُسْرعُ ويُسْرعُ

كظلِّ سحابةِ الزُرْوُرْ:

"أكره الرحيلَ..

أُحبُّ النبعَ والدربَ

وأعبُدُ الضحى"


فاطرقت ورُودً.

وتعثرتْ بحرير حُرقتِها حَمائِمْ!



You asked me once,
on our way back
from the midmorning
trip to the spring:
"What do you hate,
and who do you love?"

And I answered,
from behind the eyelashes
of my surprise,
my blood rushing
like the shadow
cast by a cloud of starlings:
"I hate departure...
I love the spring
and the path to the spring,
and I worship the middle
hours of morning."
And you laughed...
and the almond tree blossomed
and the thicket grew loud with nightingales.

...A question
now four decades old:
I salute that question's answer;
and an answer,
as old as your departure;
I salute that answer's question...

...And today,
it's preposterous,
here we are at a friendly airport
by the slimmest of chances,
and we meet.
Ah, Lord!
we meet.
And here you are
asking — again,
it's absolutely preposterous —
I recognized you
but you didn't recognize me.
"Is it you?!"
But you wouldn't believe it.
And suddenly
you burst out and asked:
"If you're really you,
What do you hate
and who do you love?!"

And I answered —
my blood
fleeing the hall,
rushing in me
like the shadow
cast by a cloud of starlings:
"I hate departure,
and I love the spring,
and the path to the spring,
and I worship the middle
hours of morning."

And you wept,
and flowers bowed their heads,
and doves in the silk of their sorrow stumbled.

—Translated by 
Peter Cole



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

إِذا تَبَيَّنَ لي
أَثْناءَ المُبارَزَةِ
أَنَّ لِغَريمي أُمّاً 
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

أَنا لَنْ أَفْتِكَ بِهِ
إِذا ظَهَرَ لي 
أَنَّ لَهُ إِخْوَةٌ وَأَخَوات
وَيُديمونَ تَشَوُّقَهُمْ إِلَيْهِ.
أَوْ إِذا كانَ لَهُ
زَوْجَةٌ تُرَحِّبُ بِهِ
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!


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