Adele Ne Jame – II
First Night at the Beirut Commodore
for H.M. 1965-2007
IThe power suddenly out,
at the high windows, I seelightning strike Hamra’s
narrow streets below. Black rainlashing in from the Mediterranean—
turns to hail, shuddering the pinesalong the broken concrete
in this March storm. Such extravagance,just as you said when
Beirut welcomed you backafter the war—
city of half-burned buildings,city of the-forever-lost,
city of the gorgeous call to prayer.The Garden of Forgiveness
in the middle of it all—secluded on the green line between
east and west in the shade of WeepingJasmine bowers, and below them,
lovely benches for perennial grieving.
I close my eyes for a second, a stranger
in this place that should have beenmy home, and I see your face again. Oh, dreamy
first steps off the planerushing with the crowd
towards whatever happensin this world. Explosions, black smoke
billowing off the tarmac,collapsing walls, shattered glass falling—
but not this spring day.Just suddenly friends—I never knew
calling my name– wavingon the other side of Customs
Ali, Ghassan, Mohammed—their effusive welcoming. Each one
heaving a bag off the carrousel into a cartand, for a moment this could be
any other airport in the worldwhere we met up, De Gaulle,
Shoreham, Kahului—any other placebut for the heavy scent of rose water
I must be imaginingwafting through clouds of cigarette smoke.
In the drift of this stormy night
again there is the image of Ghassanrushing us into a waiting car curbside
past army tanks ,soldiers in fatigues sitting atop turrets waving
their automatic weapons in the air—handsome young men at check points,
just boys, really. We see them for milesalong the coast road north
at the edges of banana farms,against the chrome of the shining sea,
and at Raouche, finally, mountainside—near the quaint hotel district with
pretty balconies above them everywhere.The president is on the move, Ali says,
then Mohammed: some tension now—meaning anything, I suppose,
but all out war. You would have said:such masters of indirection
and flatly—assassins here, a dime a dozen.You would have said fear is a smoky cloud
that floats into every cell of your body—It’s a slow white burning phosphorus—
dump it into a pail of ice waterand it keeps on burning and burning.
First night of storms and electrical dreams
tossing about,and now the morning’s cold sun
pouring through the glass–Along the street below, the wind-drenched pines,
and the loud voices of venderswheeling their noisy carts –
city of renewal and delirium,city of paranoia,
where car bombs still explode—targeted executions, my friend says to reassure.
So many confessionsburning with love. Breathe it in,
you say to yourself, open your arms to it—Do you love Beirut? My friend will ask–
Ah, you’re hooked like the rest of us, she will say.And you know you’ll be returning and returning
luck on your side or not.
It’s all over the morning news—
an explosion in Sidon,three cars and a resistance leader blown up,
protesters in the street—burning tires.Still, Ali says over boiled coffee,
man’ouche’ and lebne,the provocative—ubiquitous
yalla, why not?So we leave Beirut, heading south
past the rolling hills of orange groves,the sun blazing gorgeously over the ocean,
over the blackened shells of condosin the sand where Israeli troops lived
for months during the long war.From this distance they could almost be toys
a child might abandon along the shoreline.
Beyond a huge ficus, roots hanging down and
fig trees along the circular drive,we find your family villa—Layla and Hassan waiting
in the study, a fire going.Their eyes are blue, so blue
I am struck—unlike yours.But as I walk in, I feel your presence
everywhere, the young boyback and forth between here and Paris.
Later, the poet talking artwith his uncle, old historian from the Chouf,
world traveler, collector,dashing man still, no question.
Layla offers us thyme pies,Hassan pours fresh squeezed juice proudly
from his orange grovesthen calls us to the grand window to see
the ocean below—he says, where Jesus walked,his gift, one confession to the other–
in this tender moment whenwe both know nothing
but our common loss. They speak haltingly ofthe July war, 32 days of nonstop bombing—
A life of fleeing and returning to rubble,rebuilding time and again.
Grieving for you still, they tell the stories ofthe photographs in the silver frames
and on the walls—one by one— because I ask—because I want more of you than I have.
The Sidon Cemetery
Now there are no words.
We have worn them into silence.Rather, there is this high mountain
road, painfully lovely, that Hassan drivestaking each ascending turn slowly,
until we see the tall iron gates.He pulls over on the shoulder,
and we start walking towardsthe soldier posted there with
an AK47 in his lap—guarding the dead, the overgrown wisteria,
blue clusters hanginglike arabesques of tears.
Hassan nods, no word passes between them—As the gates open, I follow
this man I’ve fallen in love with,who is suddenly older,
and more broken as he leads the waythrough a maze of olive trees,
blooming flowers and grave markers.And there it is—nestled among the trees
overlooking the Mediterranean —your headstone, carved with
your own wordsabove the wild Algerian iris:
Home I say to the man,
my passport wet in his hands,
I want to go home.
Hassan drags a hose over to fill the vase
with water for my rosesgrateful, it seems, to have something to do,
then he wanders away.
After ten thousand miles, more than that,
I am finally here with you, alone againwith that irreducible affliction
that sooner or later marks us all.You, too-young-buried
sharing the grave of the fatheryou longed for all of your life –
how many times you said to me,in the voice I still hear—
he died six months before I was bornas if disbelieving.
If I could, I would say something poetic to you
now—how rich the light hereunder a huge Pollock-blue sky
on this magnificent hilltopabove the cyan sea you loved so much.
But in truth, there is onlya bereft silence
except for a gusting windnow and then that trembles the
Weeping Winter Jasmine—a profusion ofheavy sprays and their star-like blooms that
shiver loose and flutter into the open air.
Note: man’ouche is a round, flat bread baked with olive oil layered heavily with thyme and seseme seeds. Lebne is yogurtcheese. Yalla: let’s go.