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Winter 2004

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Poems from Palestine

Art is worthless unless it plants a measure of splendor in people’s hearts,” according to Taha Muhammad Ali. A leading Palestinian poet—who writes of not only splendor in the heart, but betrayal in the homeland and bombers in the village—Ali gave a reading on campus in September with his Israeli translator Peter Cole. Along with the poems, the two discussed Ali’s life and issues of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Born in 1931 in Palestine’s Galilee, Ali fled with his family during the Arab-Israli war of 1948, but they soon slipped back across the border and settled in Nazareth, where he has lived ever since. Poet Peter Cole has appeared with Ali for joint readings in which Ali reads his poems in Arabic and Cole reads the English translations—a format that seemed to capture the hearts and minds of the Skidmore audience. An evocative melding of colloquial and formal speech, the poems were rarely overtly political but touched on love and natural beauty, heritage and humanity, bitterness and grief. As the Washington Post put it, Ali’s voice is “both ancient and new, deceptively simple and movingly direct.”

The reading was supported by the Perlow Fund and sponsored by the special programs office. —SR

The Evening Wine of Aged Sorrow

At dusk,
as day is crushed
like a skull,
time collapses
like towering bridges
or vaults,
moments scatter
like shattered glass
from a car crash—
and despair
suddenly appears,
doubts gather,
fears are freed,
and worries stretch out their necks,
like the heads of scorpions.

…As for you, my captive
olive tree,
a splendid evening to you,
my tree of enduring captivity,
branches of the everlasting journey,
wounds of the endless wandering—
your moistened eyelids
remind me of them,
your defeated shadow
recalls for me
my father.

by Taha Muhammad Ali, excerpted from Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story (Jerusalem: Ibis Editions, 2000)


© 2004 Skidmore College