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Adele Ne Jame – I

The Essence of Arrak

for Fadwa in memory of H. M.





Like a gust of wind, she rushes into the hotel lobby,

the energy of the city as if whirling around her,

and right there somehow— we know each other.


Loss has brought us together

this night in Beirut. As we huddle

outside in the March wind and rain


we hail a taxi and head for the rebuilt

heartland—downtown.  We want

a restaurant, any place to sit and talk.


Minutes later, walking in the glow of

Hariri’s jeweled streets, we rush past

the Parliament, the huge gold-blue mosque,


its incandescence lighting up the sky.

We find a restaurant, a corner table somewhere.

And when my friend fires off the order in Arabic,


the dishes start coming—one after the other—

eggplant, fatoush—more.

Then more. A spread of impossible delicacies.


But mostly we spend time looking

into each other’s eyes, seeing

for the first time what the other saw


and— drinking arrak, powerful anise,

the essential oil that scatters light

and suddenly with water turns opaque.


Savoring it and beginning our stories,

we toast everyone we love for this moment

including  Ghalib: the world is no more 


than the Beloved’s single face—

not the tanks in the streets,

the check points, abandoned buildings.


Rolling blackouts.  Fadwa says,

the lift’s out, yalla, we climb.

And we laugh— but we both know


the empty boat the heart is—

so we drink again the essence of arrak

for the one who has left his body forever


and who, I swear, seems to appear this night

like the fog that mists the window nearby

and all too soon— disappears again.