Tag Archives: Beirut

Off Again.

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I seem to be always leaving. Never a homecoming for me. Never an everafter. Haven’t managed the till death do us part bit.

Today I was looking at the exquisite photos of the baby girl of my friends. He used to be a love of mine, in another life. His wife is a treasure. A true friend. And their baby girl is an element of dreams, a creature of light and laughter that removes any and every sorrow I ever imagined carying in my curls.

It made me think of permanence, those photos. How she will grow and grow, and I will fade and fade, and the love we will have for her will never diminish. It made me realize I do not have that in my own life.

Love, sure.

Instinct and love beyond the mind? No.

Maybe never?

I am off again, days here and there, films to pursue, books to launch, people to interview, deserts and waters to visit, suitcases to schlep around and curse, strangers on vehicles of movement to befriend and then semi- forget.

At least, I have poetry. And you, anonymous cyberspace dweller.

Here is an old old poem I wrote.

All that may not happen

12/2007,

Beirut.

i may never know who you truly are

or what paths of secret devil

schemes and voodoo magic

brought your face

to my smile

i will not retrace the journey

to this gift of your arms

tonight

and i may never sleep till death

by your laboring flesh

but for the promise of pleasure

uninterrupted

in your cadence by my side

at all the motion

repressed or broken wild

this promise of soft vapor after

is worth a thousand words

of a debt i now

owe

i owe you lines of kisses

and poems of inconceivable wealth

for now

i offer the

sacred nothing i can offer you

fingers to clasp

silence with every morn’s dew

a memory of

my calm breath in the night

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April is a wondrous month.

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The past 24 hours have been amazing. Highs and lows and everything ripe in between. Change, to the better,
and the remembrance of why I love whom I love.
Meeting Marilyn Hacker, virtually, having her contribute her kind words to my new book, learning of how poetry can join women across borders across hearts in galaxies different across the globe that we can reduce to the imprint of my palm against yours.
The past 24 hours have been amazing. I remember June Jordan. I remember Suheir Hammad. I remember my dear friend, poet undiscovered, Amahl, I remember my luminous mother and the legacy of generosity she left me. I remember Jean Makdissi and the history made in Beirut in the 70’s that is our inheritance beyond gold and land. I remember my sister, shining example of all that is right in our short breath lives.
I remember why I like poetry.
Here is Adrienne Rich, being the strong, wonderful woman that she is.

“North American Time”:

I
When my dreams showed signs
of becoming
politically correct
no unruly images
escaping beyond border
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies’ usage
then I began to wonder

II
Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we
did not love but also
did not want to kill

We move but our words stand
become responsible
and this is verbal privilege

III
Try sitting at a typewriter
one calm summer evening
at a table by a window
in the country, try pretending
your time does not exist
that you are simply you
that the imagination simply strays
like a great moth, unintentional
try telling yourself
you are not accountable
to the life of your tribe
the breath of your planet

IV
It doesn’t matter what you think.
Words are found responsible
all you can do is choose them
or choose
to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice,
which is why the words that do stand
are responsible
and this is verbal privilege

V
Suppose you want to write
of a woman braiding
another woman’s hair–
staightdown, or with beads and shells
in three-strand plaits or corn-rows–
you had better know the thickness
the length the pattern
why she decides to braid her hair
how it is done to her
what country it happens in
what else happens in that country

You have to know these things

VI
Poet, sister: words–
whether we like it or not–
stand in a time of their own.
no use protesting I wrote that
before Kollontai was exiled
Rosa Luxembourg, Malcolm,
Anna Mae Aquash, murdered,
before Treblinka, Birkenau,
Hiroshima, before Sharpeville,
Biafra, Bangla Desh, Boston,
Atlanta, Soweto, Beirut, Assam
–those faces, names of places
sheared from the almanac
of North American time

VII
I am thinking this in a country
where words are stolen out of mouths
as bread is stolen out of mouths
where poets don’t go to jail
for being poets, but for being
dark-skinned, female, poor.
I am writing this in a time
when anything we write
can be used against those we love
where the context is never given
though we try to explain, over and over
For the sake of poetry at least
I need to know these things

VIII
Sometimes, gliding at night
in a plane over New York City
I have felt like some messenger
called to enter, called to engage
this field of light and darkness.
A grandiose idea, born of flying.
But underneath the grandiose idea
is the thought that what I must engage
after the plane has rage onto the tarmac
after climbing my old stair, sitting down
at my old window
is meant to break my heart and reduce me to silence.

IX
In North America time stumbles on
without moving, only releasing
a certain North American pain.
Julia de Burgos wrote:
That my grandfather was a slave
is my grief; had he been a master
that would have been my shame.
A poet’s words, hung over a door
in North America, in the year
nineteen-eighty-three.
The almost-full moon rises
timeless speaking of change
out of the Bronx, the Harlem River
the drowned towns of the Quabbin
the pilfered burial mounds
the toxic swamps, the testing-grounds
and I start to speak again.

Third poem for April Poetry Month- Lara Sawalha!

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Hello again. It’s Sunday morning-ish. Apparently it’s Easter. I guess it’s a sign of how my life has developed the past few years, that I didn’t know it was Easter till yesterday. Not much I miss about Easter aside from painting eggs with my mother, who loved her arts and crafts with us. Anyway, isnt that ritual some pagan rite to do with spring?
Who cares. It’s poetry month! yay! The following poem is by Lara Sawalha, a lovely actress from Jordan, who is set to be a new Poetician as soon as we have a reading in Amman this summer. I thank her for offering a poem for our poetry month series, and yes yes, I know I am one day late.

This is a poem about Beirut.

“The Bay of Roots”

Beirut lights mixed with triptonic thunder strikes
Cold as the night
The words of murmured rhymes come together
Into beats as lighting bites
Hail, rain, umbrellas
Fairouz – “بوس الواوا”
Remarks the sign of Gaza
And the Intifada
Underground hip hop all around
Free styles, words crying
The smoke that brings your world flying
The lit cherry of obscure dancing
Images on the wall
Through the eye of the projecting
Electricity
Dark corners flashing neon
Conversations staggering
Thoughts glimmering
People all around
Like a jangled web
All caught in the moment
Of shivering vibration
Hot, Cold, Sweaty
Jammed in a Lebanese taxi
“Wow, your face is so close to mine”
Bumping into the roof of the odysee
Chilled to the bone and all crazy
Stuck between Iraq and a hard place
Lyrics booming
The boom box so close
I can hear it lurking
Sounds of crystals smashing
Waves gaining as the Beirut lights come to
A shimmering.

Maria, a love affair.

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Maria is a whirlwind of words that work up a dust storm of language evoking desire, longing, breathlessness and beirut moments we can all relate to. I thank her for joining our little band and for her poems.
And for her love affair with Beirut.

Love Affair

I cannot remember if
it was you who loved
me, or if it was I
who had a dark
love affair with your
city.

I cannot remember what
it was like to take you for
granted, with your alleys smelling like
trampled down
green, tobacco-laced
humidity, like
home, lingering like
the perfect nonchalant
evening.

I remember what it was
like when your only
sound was the voices of
young people wanting to
leave you, always wanting to
get out, to travel over
seas, far, far away from
you, to never come back, to
never have any doubts about the
necessity to turn their
backs on you.

I remember what it
was like to despise you, a
city impossible in its
bullet-holed
buildings, contradictory with its
flower vendors walking about,
throwing cigarette butts on your
ground. I
remember what it was like to
slam my wrists on my steering
wheel in your sun. I remember the
price I paid for
loving your son.

And then I left. We all
did. We assumed you’d always
stand tall under your smog,
we assumed we’d always
have time to live in the
land of Fairouz’s
songs. Having been
under seas seven times till
now, we never thought
twice about how you would
resurface with your narrow
winding roads, caverns haunted
by all your fleeing souls. But
with each despoiling
war, you
could be slipping a
little further away. And
even though we leave
you, we find ourselves
breaking promises to other
lovers, always
coming back for more.

Fouad Boulos.

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Fouad was kind enough to send me one of his contributions to the Poeticians in Beirut. I hope he will continue to send us Arabic poetry. Thank you.

حبيبتي

من في حقول القمح بين الأقحوان

حبيبتي

من في تراتيل الرياح، حبيبتي

من في الصباح، حبيبتي

و حبيبتي…

من في كروم الشمس،

في خمر الضياء، حبيبتي

من في صلاة مؤذنٍ عند العشاء…

حبيبتي

من في نسيمات المساء.. حبيبتي

و حبيبتي..

من في سحابات الربيع الحالمات

حبيبتي

من في سلامات الطيور النازحات

حبيبتي

من في ظلال الياسمين، حبيبتي

من في دموع الراحلين، حبيبتي

وحبيبتي..

من ضحكة الأولاد

من قيثارة الأعياد غير حبيبتي

وحبيبتي..

وحبيبتي

في كل زاوية من الدنيا

على كل الدروب

في كل لؤلؤة تزور

شباك صياد المغيب

وأنا الغريب بوحدتي

وأنا الغريب

وحبيبتي في الأرض

شاردةٌ

تفتش عن..

حبيب

Sarah Snowneil Ali- Anthem

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Sarah is one of our beautiful regular Poetician readers. She joined in Beirut and started the Dubai chapter with me. Her support and tireless interest in all things poetry is inspiring. Her own project, Atelier Poetica, has just taken off and I look forward to seeing it grow. Like a shiny purple flower!

Anthem

We walked
stepped over garbage
avoided spit smudged on the sidewalk
and cars intent on making
metal bend to squeeze
through the tight chaos
of streets uneven
resembling women annoyed
their pouts silicon glossy
ageless.
Young,
we walked in Beirut
loud adamantly flailing our hands in disgust
rebels with pretty words on paper
we throw aside
coffee stained and sleepless
to swear like men
and laugh with no shame
at our vulgar tongues
releasing primeval groans
from our fed up mouths
that speak of societies
we wish to revolt
we know we will leave
that we curse with as much love
as we know for anything that doesn’t breathe
finding ourselves somewhere between
the cracked paint, the cigarette filter
and our expression.
She says I don’t deserve this and
my nod is pained as I retrace nostalgia
of that which I didn’t deserve and don’t still.
So we walk,
martyred at our chest
legs we drag scrapping asphalt with annoyance
willing sparks from the ground
we stomp
lifting slender necks to the sky
to try to find the stars
above the concrete,
beyond the wires draped like bandages
we sigh and say
to hell with that musky scent
and anything that makes you cry.

Chris Chamoun- The problem of other minds.

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I had the pleasure of listening to Chris only once so far at a Poeticians event in Beirut. He was charming, surprising, thoughtful, funny and a delight. I am so glad he joined us and sent me this poem to share with you. More on him under the poets section and as for the last statement of his bio, I totally agree.

Thanks Chris.

The Problem of Other Minds

by Chris Chamoun.

I – A spark.
Then a million more and
gone is the peaceful surrender
to the ebb and flow of my
breath – I exhale with some
final soft strokes of the
tongue and these sounds fly
into the universe and thus
the others are meant to
know what I am feeling
If only the whole story were
so short, or so sweet, or …
I know it is not so.
The word “you” is a flexible
word; you are only you if I,
the speaker, am looking at you (or you).
This is dedicated to an everchanging you.

II – You are an image without a
memory – only light has
been kind enough to touch
you, then touch my eyes.
Somehow I notice you and
a spark then a million more are
painting a new picture
of conclusions, of capricious truths
that are glowing fire for a moment
then swept away like the last drop
of the painfully red sun at dusk.
Do not speak; do not glance at me.
Let me keep you for a moment,
fleeting nameless. Something about you
is beautiful, somehow. Just for a second
my breath stopped.

III – To get my feelings to you,
I must burn them once and
a million times more and with
their ashes command my
lungs and tongue to say
a sequence of sounds that
are no longer my feelings.
Show me what you’re
hearing… but of course,
you cannot. You are in my
eyesight. Yes, that close and still
worlds away.

IV – When I cannot see you,
you are a memory without an image,
frozen until a spark
wakes you up, in a moment’s
chance, and a million more
paint a picture alive with
color and with feelings that are
glowing fire, white hot metal
that sweeps away coldness like
the last drop of ice upon your
tongue when you sip your Manhattan.

V – What is the word for the
million and one more sparks
that fly around in some
breathtaking pattern when
you are there, somewhere…
could be anywhere?
If someone dies in a room,
unaccompanied but by
silence, and their last
sentence, heartfelt, unheard,
begins with a “you” or
ends with a “you”,
don’t you wonder who that
you might have been?
It is worth wondering.
I’ve seen an aura in a
bath of red and I still
have not forgotten.

VI – “Let me explain why I’m right…”
Every conversation secretly starts
with some whisper of intention.
Every word is a smear of ashes.
Once, a spark and a million more ago
it was a capricious desire hiding its
face behind the present moment.
And after every word, in the
imperceptible space before the next,
when you’re not really thinking,
there is a tiny drop of what
might have been and isn’t…
what was real when it was nameless.
It moves down the back of your neck
and along your spine, where you
can’t see it.

There are many things that make life
worth living. None of them involve talking.