Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, who died today at age 80, belatedly achieved international recognition through translations of his work including those by Peter Cole, and even, thanks to Adina Hoffman, became the first Palestinian poet (ahead of Mahmoud Darwish! to the latter’s reported bemusement) to be the subject of a full-length biography. Now Adina and Peter write:
It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Taha Muhammad Ali, poet and person of exceptional powers. Taha was born July 27, 1931 in the village of Saffuriyya, Palestine, and died October 2, 2011, in Nazareth, Israel. He will be sorely missed.
As all who encountered the man and his work know, Taha’s imagination was expansive, and several years back he had, as it happens, already conjured his final hours as he’d liked them to have been. This is one of his later poems, from So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2005, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin, and published by Copper Canyon Press in 2006.
Tea and Sleep
If, over this world, there’s a ruler
who holds in his hand bestowal and seizure,
at whose command seeds are sewn,
as with his will the harvest ripens,
I turn in prayer, asking him
to decree for the hour of my demise,
when my days draw to an end,
that I’ll be sitting and taking a sip
of weak tea with a little sugar
from my favorite glass
in the gentlest shade of the late afternoon
during the summer.
And if not tea and afternoon,
then let it be the hour
of my sweet sleep just after dawn.
And may my compensation be—
if in fact I see compensation—
I who during my time in this world
didn’t split open an ant’s belly,
and never deprived an orphan of money,
didn’t cheat on measures of oil
or violate a swallow’s veil;
who always lit a lamp
at the shrine of our lord, Shihab a-Din,
on Friday evenings,
and never sought to beat my friends
or neighbors at games,
or even those I simply knew;
I who stole neither wheat nor grain
and did not pilfer tools
that now, for me, it be ordained
that once a month,
or every other,
I be allowed to see
the one my vision has been denied—
since that day I parted
from her when we were young.
But as for the pleasures of the world to come,
all I’ll ask
of them will be—
the bliss of sleep, and tea.