Nina Subin

“Revenge.” A Poem by Taha Muhammad Ali

From the Collection "Hymns & Qualms: New and Selected Poems and Translations" by Peter Cole

December 14, 2023  By Peter Cole

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.


April 15, 2006



“Revenge” by Taha Muhammad Ali, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin, from Hymns & Qualms: New and Selected Poems and Translations by Peter Cole. Copyright © 2017 by Peter Cole. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All Rights Reserved


Taha Muhammad Ali was born in 1933 in the village of Saffuriya and died in Nazareth in 2011. So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971-2005, translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin is available from Copper Canyon Press.

Peter Cole
Peter Cole
Peter Cole was born in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1957. His most recent book of poems is Draw Me After, and he has also translated widely from Hebrew and Arabic works—both medieval and modern. He is the recipient of many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, a National Jewish Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. He divides his time between Jerusalem and New Haven.

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