Heart’s hope for new year

My close friend, Laura, sent me this poem today. It was written by a man whose family suffered after the establishment of the state of Israel. In this poem, called Revenge, he humanizes his enemies. The protagonist of the poem loses his father to war, and yet . . . well, please read the poem. We, who perceive enemies across the political divide can learn from Ali:


by Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali (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


During the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and on to the next year and beyond I dedicate myself to learn to grow and nurture a generous heart such as Taha Muhammad Ali’s. May it be so.