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Adele Ne Jame – I

Ashrafieyh, East Beirut


for Adele Messrony 1893-1969







Late afternoon– an outsider but not

exactly, you walk these streets— seeing

as she did, the shining light between


trellises of wild roses and the drift of

flimsy balconies along the winding hills—

St. Michel’s high cross like a scar—


and how the powdery night falls over it all—

Ashrafieyh– the very name sings

like the moving night sky—


You say it to yourself again

let the sound of it settle

like home in the heart –that world


moon grass and Mount Sannine—

and the wild ibis, migrant bird.







Say the story starts here with a girl

who urgently called after her brother

from their balcony when the sky was dark silver


leaning halfway over it

and waving her arms wildly—

like sailors do when they finally see land birds


after a long spell on the open water—

Not hearing, maybe not wanting to

the boy kept walking— and with a swagger,


jacket slung over one shoulder,

a boy ready to be a man—

a day’s rough beard grown out,


dreamy Valentino eyes and round cheeks

that she would kiss—as her mother did—

holding his face in her two hands—


and kissing again until he pulled away,

her words khallili yakun ya Rhabb

an Arabic blessing following him


but he kept on walking— heading west

towards the lights of the seaport

or maybe he stopped first at Kaffullah


Palm of God, a small cafe where

Delore played the oud tenderly they say,

the sound— like warm honey.


And surely he carried his mother’s scented scarf

of almond blossoms in his pocket,

as much good luck as a man could need—.







The girl, if she were telling it,

would bring up the wild roses again—

how they were wilting on the kitchen table


and how her mother called to her that night—


habibtitoss the flowers out, 

save the Beaujolais, and use the china

with the blue roses in the morning—


she would say how lovely

her mother was –hair loosely undone

going off to bathe the young ones and


hushing them to sleep in a cloud of blue flannel

and that she did not toss the roses out—

She left them drooping over


the edge of the blue glass

shadowing the yellow kerosene  light,

imagining Mount Sannine in summer–


(such a young  girl–barely twelve)

or the cocoon growers and

silk spinners in the high Chouf,


tending their Mulberry trees

and dying pools, and how the water

shone there—red earth to sky


trees and clouds floating together

with omens, amorphous creatures

hovering over her  in breathless dreams.







That night as I saw it in my sleep 

the neighbor lady slammed the door open

and came rushing  into the house yelling 

in a frenzy–  mother flew down the stairs and

into  the street—I ran  hard to catch up –

I kept running, sweating and shaking and running—

Then I heard—before I saw—grown boys fighting

in the streets–Christian against Muslim –

or the other way around–ma baaref—

Grown boys from the neighborhood—

gone crazy— .  Then I saw mother’s face 

in the confusion of the mob—

her eyes locked instantly on the one

who with all his body-might lurched  forward

and threw  a dagger at Saleem—

in that same second— she lunged with all her force

in front of  it and was struck  by the blade instead—.


The mob of grown boys–they scattered

as if an acid bomb smoking white ammonia

had exploded at their feet—


and the girl, before she knew it,

began living her first and last sorrow.

Saleem in floundering  grief –


his arms flailing the open air—

made the men holding him back

lose their breath and cry out–


The girl, not believing, dropped to her knees

draping her body over her mother’s

madly  imploring –


as if she could stop this thing.

But the web of her mother’s loosened hair

swarmed in a dark tangle of


blood roses around her. Warm

and sweet smelling, it soaked their skirts

and seeped into the  broken concrete and


around the roots of the wild lavender,

around the roots of olive trees—

The blood of the whole lost Levant,


a Red Sea of blood. And the nameless stars

in the heavens kept on burning and burning

and tumbling across the night sky.


The people of the neighborhood used to say

those two boys were blessed at birth when

their mothers named them both Saleem,


meaning  healthy,  safe.

Saleem, sweet lover of peace.







And now so far into the future here you are

on your own— this unlikely  summer night

wandering these streets – strange it seems


to be headed to a dinner party

a few blocks away—

Leila, Adib, Mona, the others


no doubt all gathered on the balcony

at sunset, dust filtering through the falling light,

drinking wine, lighting cigarettes—


perhaps rummaging  through the newspapers

and feeling edgy— calmly the way people do here—

A flotilla is headed for Gaza—another ship


set to sail on Sunday—the Saint Miriam,

a crew of women only on board—

those heavily pregnant, even singers and nuns,


the whole region apt to ignite again.

But somehow you too have picked up

the knack of nonchalant worrying,


at least for the moment— with your bottle of

Beaujolais and half kilo of honeyed

sweets in your sack. You pass one iron lamp post


after another hung with moons of light,

try to imagine saturation bombing ,

the white fire of artillery shells—


spent millions of them buried in the rubble of

collapsed buildings here and there.

Then quietly what you have been dreading


all along without knowing it –

an exquisite foreboding

comes over you— like a dark omen


mixed with the rich smell of earth after

a drenching rain—for the first time you think

your time here has passed –-


storms from the Mediterranean will sweep through —

clearing  this oppressive  haze  along with

the last blooms of summer.  You will be missing


the winter light flooding the far hills

above the city,  even the exhaust of diesel fuel

mixed with salt air,–and the sleek Glossy Ibis,


congregations of them,

cobalt blue,  necks outstretched in flight—

a revered,  holy bird— in hieroglyphs


signifying the soul, shining and resplendent

heading out on the next strong wind—

some few perhaps returning, others not.






*khallili yakun ya Rhabb: may the lord keep you safe