Taha Muhammed Ali

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In October a great Palestininian poet died. Taha Muhammed Ali was self taught and, all his life, earned his living as a shopkeeper in Nazareth. He was witness all of the agonies and upheavals of the time – but but when he thought of his own death dreamt only of sleep and tea. Here’s the poem he wrote:

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
would ask —
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.

If you’re minded you can hear him read it here. The arabic version is first (worth it just for the sounds and rhythms) and then the translation.

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