Quotable: Taha Muhammad Ali

Here is one of my favorite poems by Taha Muhammad Ali: “Thrombosis in the Veins of Petroleum”:

When I was a child
I fell into the abyss
but didn’t die;
I drowned in the pond
when I was young,
but did not die;
and now, God help us—
one of my habits is running
into battalions of land mines
along the border,
as my songs
and the days of my youth
are dispersed:
here a flower,
there a scream;
and yet,
I do not die!


They butchered me
on the doorstep
like a lamb for the feast—
in the veins of petroleum;
In God’s name
they slit my throat
from ear to ear
a thousand times,
and each time
my dripping blood would swing
back and forth
like the feet of a man
hanged from a gallows,
and come to rest,
a large, crimson mallow
a beacon
to guide ships
and mark
the site of palaces
and embassies.


And tomorrow,
God help us—
the phone won’t ring
in a brothel or castle,
and not in a single Gulf Emirate,
except to offer a new prescription
for my extermination.
But …
just as the mallow tells us,
and as the borders know,
I won’t die! I will not die!!
I’ll linger on—a piece of shrapnel
the size of a penknife
lodged in the neck;
I’ll remain—
a blood stain
the size of a cloud
on the shirt of this world!

Here is the poem in the original Arabic: ترمبوزة في شرايين النفط. You can find it in the collection So What: New and Selected poems, 1971-2005 translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin. Next month, Yale University Press will be publishing a biography of Taha Muhammad Ali.