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I wrote this poem for a birthday surprise last year that never happened. Surprised myself at not hearing back from him and wondering whether he had hated it that much I wondered what had happened. The next time he rang to discuss the state of the world and gossip, I asked him. He had no idea that any event had been planned and asked me to send him the poem. I did. The response was immediate. ‘A badge of honour, old tiger except for one sinister line.’ Those who knew him can guess that the reference was to his sexual prowess not politics. We spoke later and laughed. Now when I think back he was already ill and none of us knew except for those who needed to for various reasons. Why didn’t he tell us? I have thought a great deal about this refusal to say farewell to friends who had known him for many decades. I think there were two reasons: politically he was not in a mood for farewells, writing to the last just as his inimitable father had once done; personally he knew that once friends know it alters the relationship. With the best will in the world it is difficult to concentrate on other matters once you know that a close friend is or might be terminally ill. He was right not to tell us. In a strange way this hurriedly composed verse, designed to meet a deadline, turned out to be a farewell. I’m glad he read it. Am still reeling a bit from his death and will write about him at length at a later date.
For A.C. who will be
70 on 6 June 2011
Comrade, editor, friend:
Three score years and ten?
Not for our generation.
We remain communists,
We remain young.
Hurling our gauntlets scornfully,
Counterpunching our grim-faced rulers,
And those who defend them,
And those who fight their wars,
And those who fill their pockets with gold,
And those contrarians who write to please,
And those who never doubt
For fear it might provoke thought.
* * *
On California’s northern shores
In your rock-built refuge
You stand steadfast,
Weaving words without pause or rest,
Except (and why not)
To enjoy a glass of the local red,
And food lovingly prepared.
Other pleasures there may be too
But, perhaps, fewer than before,
That’s the price we pay,
Just as well.
Preserve your strength
To sound the bell:
As the old poet said
Better than serving in Heaven
Is to reign in Hell.
TARIQ ALI’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ was published by Verso.