Zeina- Delicious words wrapped in fire….

Standard

A few months ago, we welcomed an exciting new addition to the Poeticians community. Blunt, to the point, intensely reflective at the same time, filled with yearning and nostalgia, mixed with a hyperactive hyperverbal curiosity about everything and anything, Zeina Hashem Beck is no typical Lebanese woman.
Her work is cultivated by personal experience that resonates with so many in our region. Her scrutiny of what makes a poet a poet, a mother a mother, a home a home is fascinating. Add to that mix a restless spirit, ready to smile, and a voice that is strong, deep, and so sure of itself, the stage seems to exude radiating pulsating beats every time she speaks. We are super happy Zeina is a very active, vital and rambunctious Poet in our midst. Thank you Zeina, for always being there,
and writing, writing, writing, every week, when I am sure the world pulls at you in non-poetic ways all the time. Her more recent work is also very exciting. Below are some older poems of hers. Stay tuned to this blog for updates from her and other new poets, coming up soon. I have been so busy with the whirling world that this small safe space here has been relinquished for badass journeys, but the spirit is forlorn and a sojourn with my anonymous readers, poems from around the world, and the useless meandering of my brain is much needed. Thank you reader. Thank you, Zeina.

To Hamra

Every morning Umm Nagi
makes a lousy joke
and stirs our coffee.
We look at her dirty nails,
we hold the warm paper cups and
walk
across streets that are endless
in their endless repetitions,
small labyrinths
we have memorized,
familiar labyrinths
in which we get lost on purpose:

Here is the yellow coffee shop
and another,
and another,
where our fathers curl politics
with their cigar smoke
all day,
and measure poetry
with their sugar spoons
and say,
“The situation is bad again,
it is bad again.”

Here is Modca ,
the ancient coffee shop,
where memories cling to the walls
like a wild plant that sprouts
voices and smoke and small conversations.
Here is Modca,
the ancient coffee shop,
turning into a Vero Moda,
no more spoons or cigarettes or the clatter of cups,
history buried in clothes,
outshone by Starbucks.

Here is the tiny cassette shop
in which the fat man barely fits,
in which the fat man sings and spits,
and nods and nods,
as if to God,
saying business is slower than old age,
releasing Arabic music
into crowded streets that move
to the inborn beat,
here is the tiny cassette shop,
and another,
and another.

Here is the flower shop,
and another,
and another,
they all have the same name
but insist they’re not the same,
a sidewalk of flowers and dust, dust, dust,
and we decide to buy the white lilies,
just because they’re flowers,
just because they’re white,
just because they’re lilies.

Here is the deserted theater
where the bald man sighs
into a red telephone,
then shouts at his wife,
and cries
his bills and anger away,
you’d never expect
emotions
inside the smell of old semen
and posters of movies that never really play.
Here is the deserted theater,
and another,
and another.

Here is the whorehouse,
where the fat woman gathers old age in a chair
and promises cab drivers a good time
with the worn beauties inside,
leaning topless on the bar,
leaning
on memories withering in the smell of cigars,
here’s another lost memory,
and another,
and another.

Here is the leftist pub,
where the grey man smiles
and plays the oud
(could wood and strings reach the soul like that?)
he sings,
and his rough voice sinks
into us like a rock,
Umm Kulthum and Fairuz and Abdel Halim ,
ya leil ya ein ,
the most famous words in our language,
ya leil ya ein
and we clap and dance and hope
the term papers will write themselves,
here is the leftist pub,
and another,
and another.

Here is Universal,
where Nagham the waitress knows
we have lots of lemon in our lentil soup,
lots of cigarettes in our pockets,
and tells us to smile smile smile,
“because smiling is such, such, a nice thing to do,”
and the black kohl on her eyes is thicker
than memories and Turkish coffee
and darker than
the street outside.

Here we are,
drinking sunset and soup again,
drinking time away again,
time that vanishes like a small white cloud
on a blue-sky day in Hamra,
here’s to another day in Hamra,
and another,
and another.

(published in The Arabesques Review)

The Nameless

What do you call the space between
the written word and the blank page,
names in the distance and distance without names?

I know forgetting. I know
forgetting happens before
remembering.
But what happens after?

Give me a word
lukewarm and not so
comprehensible,
a word that drops
like white shadows
from the sky.

What name?
Give me a name
that melts like rain
and smells like moonlight
on my skin.

(published in Silk Road)

Service

Here in Beirut,
you do not stop
a cab. It stops
you.

Money is negotiable. Silence
isn’t: small confidences in small mirrors,
you have to have time
for that whether you have it
or not. Conversations seep
through the heat, the rain,
along with hands (instead of
signal lights), along with
cigarette butts and

spit.
It takes time, it takes time
to master a driver’s technique.
You have to gather it
in your throat like
rage, and spit it out like
nothing, make it as ordinary
as a lemon on a table.

The car is the streets’ old mistress.
It trembles, it swerves,
it dies little deaths along the way,
as the man behind the wheel adjusts
the word Allah or the cross
hanging from the mirror,
tilts his head towards
the sky inside the puddles,
towards a girl in tight jeans,
offers you a zaatar manoushé , insists,
and tells you to forget
air conditioning.

(published in Quiddity)


I Call It Home

This place where
electricity and water
take turns,
I call it home.

This place where
earth matters,
where we’re dust and sand,
and slip right through
the enemy’s hands,
I call it home.

This place where
we die and rise and
die and rise
again
every few years,
where we fold and
unfold peace
like a paper boat
(and hope it floats),
I call it home.

(published in Quiddity)

Peace Oil

I know what oil is and I know what it means.
“Eat oil and rub yourself with it”
were the Prophet’s words. This sounds
sexual only in English. I don’t know if the quote
is accurate, word per word, but I know
olive oil has healing powers.
Only olive oil. And the olive tree
is mentioned in the Koran, along with the fig tree,
but that is another discussion.

I don’t know what peace is and I don’t know what it means.
I know the world wants peace, and so should I.
I know now that peacemaking involves
olive oil, and I know it is as harmless
as knitting a jacket on the sofa or frying
an onion with hot olive oil, which smells
as good as olive oil and onion does.
I wonder if peace smells the same.
I know we say “Peace Be Upon You” for hello and goodbye.

I know what Peace Oil is and I know what it means
because it is right here in British Homes and Gardens:
three bottles with different sizes and shades of green,
perhaps to indicate the nuances of the olive tree.
(My grandmother says olive trees cannot
have nuance. They have roots and history.)
English, Arabic, and Hebrew inscriptions,
too much writing for an olive oil bottle if you ask me.
What Peace Oil means, and this time I quote exactly, I am accurate,
I have even kept the line breaks to be faithful to the poetry:
“Produced in Israel by Jews, Arabs, Druze, and
Bedouins, with profits for reconciliation projects.
Peace Oil, £9.95 for 500ml olive oil, Good Gifts.”
Just like the Prophet said, healing powers for 9.95 only
peace for 9.95 only, although I still don’t know what peace means.

I know I imagine a world with many kinds of Peace Oils.
Can you hear the music I hear in my head?
Olive oil in Lebanon and Palestine. In Iraq
the black kind that explodes from the ground.
Imagine that in a bottle, I mean imagine
all the colors, the possibilities of Peace Oils,
one could even make mugs, recipes for
peace with parmesan or lemon, advertise them on Facebook
for 9.95 only, with profits for reconciliation projects,
although I’m not sure what reconciliation means.

(published in 34th Parallel)

For Palestine, those who love her, and everyone who remembers.

Standard

And old poem I thought I would share again today, as the situation around us escalates into a spiral, enlarging violent connections, deep despair for the future of all refugee children. This poem is a love letter to Damascus, where I was a child in the 80’s and remember Palestine. Remember crying when I knew Israel was the future.
It is a love letter to all the solidarity movements around the world who stand with us. It is a love letter to you, reader.
For the victims of the mass murder in 2009 of our people in Gaza. Murdered again, as I post this.

Headlines
Dubai, 22/4/2010

What is it this intake of breath
the word fuck hissed as if shock was
new to this body
as if this news was new to this body
what is it this slight widening of nostrils flare, tongue bloated inside
lips drowned in despair, too laden with history to
envision present, what is it, this gaping stare at jumbled remembrance-
deported from west bank to gazaIDF pass lawapartheid
state blossoms
– this bodies shoveled by bulldozer to mass graves– this
girl, 12 yrs old,
found dead on way to marke
t-
this sniper tshirt draws belly of arab womb is target
twice successful

Where do all the tents go?
land grab graphswalls through a father’s face
sullen concrete of his seed

what is this plume of
white hides shadows of the daily exterminated we-
from where does it rise up, like bile, like vomit, like
acid- this surprise?
Surprise?
This has always been the way it is,
this has always been.
In 1983,
a 5-year old refugee slams her body on a warm bed, revolts a tantrum when
adults kindly confirm…”They have to call it Israel now, honey”… what does that child
know of stolen family?
Children learn.
What is this
this intake of breath at headlines gaza ramallah jenin
netanyahu dines at white houseclinton says security firstabu mazen seeks presidencyold man dies of lack of electricity
I have heartburn where I once had pulse, I have
spasms of stomach too full to chew this new
news I digest no more,
what is it, this surprise…”how could it possibly get worse”

fuck

Muse

Standard

I am bored, for the first time in a very very long time. Maybe ever. I do not know what it is. I used to be bored when I was a teenager living in Damascus, but books would always alleviate that. Now, I dont even have that sanctuary or relief. I want to blame the summer in Dubai and its oppressive heat and dullness,
but thats not fair. I could get off my butt and go bowling, swimming, drinking, dancing, etc. Its something more. I cant quite define it, and maybe I dont have to. But I have been meaning to write a poem about why I am not writing. And here it is. It has been a long time since I wrote anything,
and already, those who love me have told me that my writing has become less angry, less emotional, less filled with verbs for action to change the world, and I cannot quell the fear, the worry, the thought that maybe, if you live in the desert surrounded by malls, and allow yourself to get old,
your language will mold and wither and shrink and suffer. Who knows. Not good to rant, but trust me, I cannot wait to finish some of the projects I have been working on, I need that sense of achievement, and I have never been known for my patience or calmness.

The Matter
Dubai, June 15th
On being bored in the desert.

Somehow, recently, I have lost meaning.
By meaning, I mean
the image behind the image,
the fable behind plastic,
the dream behind indelibly mute inner noise.
I used to be boisterous. All alone.

The bed was history. Arms craned, feet
curled
up thighs, necks extended and whispers
made poetry,
personal. Sheets longed to be soiled,
pillows squirmed under tugged curls
and all of the moment was a moment,
repeated,
the same,
singular,
mass experienced and individual,
art or desecration, pornography
a show,
or love.

The table was abundance. Crumbs of everything we spoke about
dropped like a fairy tale trail. Falafel,
chicken, avocadoes. I was always hungry.
We dipped French fries like they were
finger foods of gods.
We slathered sunny side up
eggs, on orange lime-green purple afternoons
like every weekend was a vacation.
Like your face was ice-cold cocktails, and my giggling, the ocean.
The way he ate was laughter, and I,
sipping on lady-like morsels of prayer.

The couch was a garden. We live
in the desert, but who was to stop us?
Somehow, now,
that fact creeps into our habits.
Sinews
draped on color, I buy
silk and sequins rustling
hoping peace or orgasms reverberate with
innocent fat-tummied contortions of bodies,
the repose of the lovers who have witnessed years atrophy,
middle-aged
gymnastics, watching clocks tick on walls,
watching time move for so far, nothing.
Your hand clutched my waist,
mine on your hip. Your head
nudged my nape. My knees curved into stillness. Sang.
Little sequences of motion created dance,
jittered, wordless.
We may lie in silence, or speak devil tongues of a thousand
sentences bequeathed
to ancestry. The folds of our bodies now rest, everything else
is seen from a window,
distant and not dangerous. I do not move much,
breath heavy.

In Dubai, summer wilts my breasts, my eyes, my belly.
I have no words behind words, no photo behind
repeated consumer snapshots.
A muse found in stupor earlier
recalls palm trees and now barren,
dissipates into civil wars and
awkward quarrels about love and duties.

And, nothing.
The bed a bed. The table a table. The couch a couch.
Wood, plastic, fabric.

Salt-water songs

Standard

Ever been surprised by tears making an appearance at the behest of a beautiful song?

Salt-water songs
Dubai, 3/2/2012

Lyrics swim in the forefront of your brow.
You concoct theories, radical,
you insist your heart is proof.
You lay claim to facts, such as,
salt dries faster as I bury more moons.
As if the body, shaking, holds on to its water.
As if drought makes eyes solid.
Teeth may chip but the gaze dams the pump,
builds borders against all that love left behind.
The sun shrivels what once evaporated slowly.
As if the body understands minerals are precious.
As if the soul knows weeping’s worth.
As if those who died in our arms were practice,
the hardening of impulsions, the
quietude of ache.
How noble, composure.
That grace under whirlpools.
That elegance in the undertow.
Pressure that doesn’t mount, a new world entire.
But, no.
Fiction slaps you, hard.
No one ages beyond the need for tears.
One nighttime song you may have forgotten,
slinks in, wrapped in sex and
laughter,
smacks coercion from faces adamant, hell bent on survival,
once a buried coral-hard reef,
now a lone rip current, free.

Farah- Joy, Palestine and our youngest Poetician

Standard

Farah Chamma is one of the best kept secrets of our Poetician life. She is the youngest of the Dubai poeticians and is a remarkable young woman. We all almost envy that she gets up and performs and rocks the mic at such a young age…
She joins the Poeticians only at events that are not held in bars, etc. But when she does, the audience is very impressed, hoots and hollers support and her smile lights up the room.
Strong, independent, full of faith, affection, love for poetry and one hell of an internal lyrical world, I am sure that Farah will be gracing the Palestinian literary heritage for many years. How that makes us happy. How that makes us proud.
She is regularly joined at our readings by an entire clan of family and friends who send positive smiles and support for her across the room, and seeing her beaming as she finishes each poem, memorized, reminds me every time why Poeticians exists in the first place. You go, girl.


I Am No Palestinian

Farah Chamma

I am no courageous,
Fearless, valorous, gallant,
Proud, adventurous,
Selfless patriot
I am a soul in exile
Expressing my thoughts in
All languages but mine
” Hi…I am Palestinian”
” Salut…Je suis palestinienne”
I cut my mother tongue
In half
نصبت المبتدأ و لعنت أبو الخبر
كسرت الضمة التي ضمت ما بيننا
Palestinian poet
Rafeef Ziadeh was right when
She said
”Allow me to speak my Arab tongue
Before they occupy my language as well”
Well… to that I must add
Allow me to be the Arab
That I am
Allow me my right
To learn, to travel, to pray
Allow me to walk through any
Foreign street without having
To feel this shame
Without having to think twice
About my clothes, my face, my name
Or the visa I had to work
Day and night for the claim
Because at the end of the day
I am not the one to blame
For Bin Laden, 9/11, and all your
Other schemes and games
I am but a soul in exile
I am in no hall of fame
I have to opt to be
Someone I am not
Just to fit in your fame
Despite the agony I went through
Despite the struggles I overcame
Despite the diplomas, the degrees,
The awards I acclaim
I am still no Palestinian

No matter how many
” I love Palestine” stickers
I stick on my car
No matter how many times
I cry over Gaza
And argue over the Israeli settlements
No matter how many times
I curse the Zionists, blame the media,
And swear at the Arab leaders
I am still no Palestinian
Even if I memorize the
Names of all the Palestinian cities
Even if I recite Mahmood Darwiche’s
Poetry and draw Handala on my walls

Even as I stand here tonight
In front of you all
I am no Palestinian
أنا مش فلسطينية
And I might never ever be
And that’s exactly what
Makes the Palestinian
In me…

Infinite

Standard

Its really not very surprising that one of my favorite albums as a teenager was Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.
I still write like a teenager. That’s probably a bad thing.
But to love, to love like a child, is probably necessary for the often aching adult brain.
This one is for Nees, Alex, Rach and JJ.

Infinite
(For everything that is over)
Dubai, 01/02/2012

crush of lassitude
longitude of screen solitary, electric
impulses
don’t glow that one curve of smirk your lips anchor
on my neck,
once offered,
or your fur brown of eyes unaccustomed to
open language
and its pitfalls
that abyss of my violent hands moving to fool the body into rigor
how the ashtrays fill up so quickly
throat still hollow
how wasted were all those muscles yearning
in my face
whether grimaces I sobbed haunted you
or smiles bewitched sadness
I robbed of your dreams
how nothing shifts in sleep scapes
dawn, no longer narrow,
how fat everything feels
the swell of fingers repels dry
exteriors
you could always find your path to stroke
my spine
reclined
as swing for merriment, my skin,
pool of aqua in my waist when all was
once shed rotten red
and sick yellow,
how even the trashcans fill up so quickly,
and I have more evening
and I have more morning
cheeks sallow
conversations in logic regurgitated
masticated in that gift of
infinite delicacy
of
friends who
empty out junkyards in my ribs,
who insist, despite the seeping bellow
that logic will stamp code rules on all this sorrow,
how I keep explaining of feet bereft, still peeking
behind stumbled movements of white
grey numb collision,
once mellow,
all drab setting of teeth ground against reason,
against limping to bedrooms empty,
mornings silent,
that peculiar lassitude of shoulders,
embraces, counted,
treasured,
now stored parchment crumbles,
age old love letters you never agreed to send,
hunger barking in stomachs
reading,
words, cheap,
words infinite,
vile words that twist, flare and echo.

Barren

Standard

Thoughts on having children. Or not having children.

Barren
Dubai, 28th, Jan 2012.

It is meant to be the animal will
the divine right
the one cry of my aging aunt against the light
the cupcakes in smeared chocolate
the small hugs in the dawn
the squeezing of hands at a doctor’s assessment
the unflinching fear of disease
and betrayal
the alarm clocks for school
the every every day of sameness
comfort and death in every
ritual
the one demand your Arab parents make
guilting you into procreation
and the flurry of midnight jaunts
now impossible
now absent,

the reason our thighs intersect
make musical wars
tempests of drums blaring pleasure
the only suitable adornment for my chest as skin graces skin
as gods would
laugh
or touch one another
or playfully banter
as heaven might feel under your feet
as only sleep can bring salvation
as morning sun is to forgetfulness
as the moon is to private weeping
all one day,
swept away by the toothless
miniscule smile
stamped by DNA
tarnished
or sane,
all loss diminished by a first word
or a tottering step of hesitation
and that mesmerizing ability to suddenly read,
upturned eyes with expressions interpreted best in
holy books
written in water
only by mothers
and fathers
perused for eternity by the type of love words can’t define,
measured by sacrifice prisoners of conscience
dare not put into memoirs,
spun silk like fingers clutching,
toes, five little perfect cherubs, drawn in grand design
I cannot will myself to decipher.

It is meant to be the meaning of woman
and man
the solution to decay
life ongoing, ever moving, a
machine so rampant
I am breathless at its beat,
at its harmony,
its brutal candor,
its bludgeoning of the senses, deprived of logic,
or rationale
or mathematical symmetry
or even humor.

It’s the completion of my breath,
the atonement of all sins,
the mirth of glee familial,
agony of responsible admonishment,
that unique creation of spirit separate from your body,
the frantic fear at every second
of every street intersection of
departure
and danger lurking
in even small plastic objects,
and in shadows of
bombs heralding horror,
and for those in war zones,
trees aflame
sky ablaze
the ground a funeral
not a playground,
not a landscape natural.
How do they do it?
How does skin extend?
How does the heart bulge to encompass lavishing nurture?
The pocket as deep as thoughts can grow?
The mouth vessel for wisdom
for punishment
for the lyrical naming of animals,
and clouds,
and clothes,
and continents
and galaxies,
and the explanation attempted at
feelings primal,
alleviation of hunger,
vital
for the type of caretaking without deadlines
or schedules
or tangible compensation
or fame
or fortune,
or the keeping at bay of real life monsters,
how do they do it?

I think of you
I think of you, my love,
that bed you sleep in,
those pillows I gathered,
far from my restless center,
the way our love created only embers,
the way our love created only questions,
unventured,
your brown eyes in memory
slowly diminished,
once proud,
sky bent,
now
as dull and as quiet
as chopped greyish lumber,
splintered
silences between us,
the lines forming on my face childless,
nothing but fear cavorting in our
dusty corners,
the hands we dislocated from one another,
the way our feet don’t curl up
in slumber,
and how
how do they all do it?

Maybe there really is no planning the future.
Maybe even poetry is incapable of committing to a suitable answer.
Maybe slow steaming love is decisions made
in afternoons of somber
sober reflection,
a careful ascension to personal thrones
of lineage
as grandeur,
and not that furnace we flung ourselves into,
lit brightly,
briefly illuminating a universe entire,
to be then a charcoal portrait
a work of splendor,
inanimate,
frozen,
extinguished and without name,
barren,
forgotten, without even a tremor.

For the days are all my own,
and the nights are all my own,
and I am as far as desire can go,
and as lost as the calling of wind takes me.