Monday, October 09, 2006

The Poet Came to the Peninsula

The poet came to the peninsula. Instead of going to see him we stayed home, and I googled his name and looked at photographs of his broad peasant face. Roger and I are such recluses we are nothing like our little Douglas Squirrel who actually knows how to seize an opportunity. We looked at opportunity and regretfully declined. The poet came to the peninsula. He has a voice that the newspaper described as "deep and prehistoric, punctuated by the movement of his big farmer's hands." We could have gone to hear that voice and watch those hands, but we stayed home, and I imagined them instead.

His people and my people have been feuding forever. We have lost all sensibilities of time. His people and my people hold the entire world in our tragedies. We are the mistakes of religion and memory. His people and my people are the marionettes of history.

I have said for so many years that I longed to hear a voice of peace come out of the middle east. I wanted something that would go straight into my heart and remind me that we could all be safe if we really wanted to. That we could take our revenge with pity for humanity and let the world live in peace.
The poet Taha Muhammad Ali came to the peninsula, and our little weekly newspaper published this poem.


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.


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 child who
couldn't bear his absence
and whom his presents thrilled.
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 be on his own--
cut off like a branch from the tree--
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and with no kin or friends or neighbors
and neither colleagues nor 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.

Taha Muhammad Ali
April 15, 2006

The poet came to the peninsula. This poem came out of the middle east. Be still my heart.

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