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In memory of Taha Muhammad Ali, 1931-2011
Already birds are flying into your garden,
Lark and quail, sand in their wings.
The garden is in front, the desert is not far.
Somewhere a bus is burning.
Your wife enters, tray in hand—heaped with fennel shining,
Cut apples, loquats, pears,
Sweet and cooked scents rise in your sick room
Man-mountain sitting up in bed,
On your head a cap of wool, a blue stripe on it.
You balance a thimble full of coffee in your hand
I stare at your furrowed palm, fit to clutch pen or spade,
Dig for memory.
How long have you been in this garden?
Twenty million years! Your voice is hoarse
A stream under red rocks.
I think of Saffuriyya, your village destroyed
I think of a girl with auburn hair, where is she now?
Do you know the Panchatantra
The hare and the tortoise story?
We are like that, the tortoise in the dry land.
It lives in our head.
You look to the side, fall quiet.
A tear rolls from your eye.
I cannot bear it now and say— Taha Muhammad Ali , Sir,
Your poems are a garden. The sky is beyond us.
The garden will outlast us.
You seem not to hear.
You slip against the pillow, push yourself up again
I lean forward, adjust the blanket.
The birds, I say, there are many birds in your garden.
Your face lights up. Sunlight on your face.
A thread of gold breaks the sky
You stretch out a hand
Reaching for a world we have not seen
A life of sound and circling sense
Wild air, the wound of mist,
A woman boils milk, on an old stove
Pours it into a metal cup
Hands it to a man just back from the fields,
A boy cradles a quivering mouse in his hands,
He’s rescued it from a trap.
A girl with auburn hair,
Dressed in checked skirt and white blouse
Plucks apricots by a stream.
Overhead clouds part.
Close at hand, beside a mound of sand
A broken comb, a burning bush:
An old old story—the bush burns
And is not consumed.
The leaves are scarlet,
The leaves are filled with singing syllables.