What troubled times we live in.
It’s tempting to think that people have become meaner and more vicious, that the world is a heartless, cold place where only the most bloodthirsty will survive…like we’re always on the precipice of some new disaster. Well, maybe the last part is true, but I try to keep things in historical perspective. Conflict has existed since the first two men decided they wanted the same animal for dinner. The flip side of that is compassion, even forgiveness. I’d bet that it also existed from the beginning.
When I lose perspective, I open a random page in a book I love called, New York Diaries. This tome has snippets from diary passages spanning 400 years (1609 – 2009) from people, famous and not, who write about what they were living through in New York City. It’s comforting because people have always worried about, been angry about and excited about, the same things that modern day people experience today.
I also find great comfort in my favorite poem of all time. And I’m not really a poetry “person.” I’d usually tend towards raunchy limericks, to be honest, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions, particularly in light of what is happening in the world, is a poem by Palestinian poet, Taha Muhammed Ali (1931-2011) called ” Revenge.” I love the written words of this poem, but I especially love to watch him read it. Of course, he reads it in Arabic which I don’t understand, but still…it’s incredibly moving.
And then (in the video below) it’s read in English to a group of poetry lovers in the US and Taha’s expression and mannerisms when listening to his words read by someone else, in another language, are, for me, like a sort of beautiful interpretive dance.
Here is the poem, Revenge, and below it is a video of Taha reading it. If it buffers, click on this link to watch it on YouTube.
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.
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 who 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 to be on his own –
cut off like a branch from a tree –
without 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 –
nor 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.
Here is Taha reading it in Arabic, and Peter Cole reading it in English.