Taha Muhammad Ali: A Poem

A friend of mine, John Huyler, has made it a practice over the years to read a poem every night as he goes off to sleep. Preparing the way for dreams, perhaps. I don’t have quite that discipline and am often too caught up in catching up on the great classics to have an ounce of wakefulness left to read even one poem. I am quite astounded of late though by the poems of Taha Muhammad Ali, in translations of Peter Cole, Yahya Hajazi and Gabriel Levin. Copper Canyon has the book, So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971- 2005
Tea and Sleep

By Taha Muhammad Ali

If, over this world, there’s a ruler
who holds in his hand bestowal and seizure,
at whose command seeds are sown,
as with his will the harvest ripens,
I turn in prayer, asking him
to decree for the hour of my demise,
when my days are drawing 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 before 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.

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