Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Barbarians and Writers

Today, a ten-person boat attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. On board, were Jews from Germany, the US, the UK, Israel who wanted to say, Israel’s policies are not ours. They carried books and school supplies for the Gazan children. Even though the Gazan leader would, if he could, murder every one of Israel’s fathers, every one of its mothers. Because of course the blockade does nothing but reinforce that hatred. Israel towed the small boat into Ashdod, one of its ports, without violence.

The barbarians are all of us.

I am reading Adina Hoffman’s biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali called “My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness.” Hoffman is a Jew living in Jerusalem. Taha Muhammad Ali still lives in Israel. The book is successful in that it recounts one particular man's experiences, his tragedies, and his victories. It speaks of the restorative power of words and of poetry. While I think Hoffman's retelling of the poet's life is seen through a particular lens, the book is beautifully and compassionately written and speaks also, I think, to the possibility of healing. Both of them wish each other well.

If the barbarians are us, so perhaps are the saviors.

Here is a lovely poem by Taha Muhammad Ali.

fame, nor wealth,
not even poetry itself,
could provide consolation
for life’s brevity,
or the fact that King Lear
is a mere eighty pages long and comes to an end,
and for the thought that one might suffer greatly
on account of a rebellious child.
My love for you
is what’s magnificent,
but I, you, and the others,
most likely,
are ordinary people.

My poem
goes beyond poetry
because you
beyond the realm of women.

And so
it has taken me
all of sixty years
to understand
that water is the finest drink,
and bread the most delicious food,
and that art is worthless
unless it plants
a measure of splendor in people’s hearts.

After we die,
and the weary heart
has lowered its final eyelid
on all that we’ve done,
and on all that we’ve longed for,
on all that we’ve dreamt of,
all we’ve desired
or felt,
hate will be
the first thing
to putrefy
within us.

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