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Exodus

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The street is empty
as a monk’s memory,
and faces explode in the flames
like acorns—
and the dead crowd the horizon
and doorways.
No vein can bleed
more than it already has,
no scream will rise
higher than it’s already risen.
We will not leave!
 
Everyone outside is waiting
for the trucks and the cars
loaded with honey and hostages.
We will not leave!
The shields of light are breaking apart
before the rout and the siege;
outside, everyone wants us to leave.
But we will not leave!
 
Ivory white brides
behind their veils
slowly walk in captivity’s glare, waiting,
and everyone outside wants us to leave,
but we will not leave!
 
The big guns pound the jujube groves,
destroying the dreams of the violets,
extinguishing bread, killing the salt,
unleashing thirst
and parching lips and souls.
And everyone outside is saying:
“What are we waiting for?
Warmth we’re denied,
the air itself has been seized!
Why aren’t we leaving?”
Masks fill the pulpits and brothels,
the places of ablution.
Masks cross-eyed with utter amazement;
they do not believe what is now so clear,
and fall, astonished,
writhing like worms, or tongues.
We will not leave!
 
Are we in the inside only to leave?
Leaving is just for the masks,
for pulpits and conventions.
Leaving is just
for the siege-that-comes-from-within,
the siege that comes from the Bedouin’s loins,
the siege of the brethren
tarnished by the taste of the blade
and the stink of crows.
We will not leave!
 
Outside they’re blocking the exits
and offering their blessings to the impostor,
praying, petitioning
Almighty God for our deaths.
 

                                                   5.11.1983


Taha Muhammah Ali, “Exodus” from So What. Copyright © 2006 by Taha Muhammah Ali. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.
Source: So What (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
Exodus

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  • Palestinian poet and short story writer Taha Muhammad Ali grew up in Saffuriya, Galilee. During the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, he moved with his family to Lebanon for a year; since then he has lived in Nazareth, where he owns a souvenir shop. Self-taught through his readings of classical Arabic literature, American fiction, and English poetry, Ali started writing poems in the 1970s. His collections in English include Never Mind: Twenty Poems and a Story (2000) and So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971–2005 (2006).
     
    In a direct, sometimes humorous, and often devastating style, Ali combines the personal and political as he details both village life and the upheaval of conflict. Comparing Ali to his contemporaries, John Palattella commented in a review in the Nation: “Whereas Darwish and al-Qasim, like most Palestinian poets, have favored the elevated and ornate rhetoric of fus’ha, or classical Arabic, Ali writes nonmetrical, unrhymed...

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