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Adele Ne Jame – II

First Night at the Beirut Commodore

for H.M. 1965-2007






The power suddenly out,

at the high windows, I see

lightning strike Hamra’s

narrow streets below. Black rain

lashing in from the Mediterranean—

turns to hail, shuddering the pines

along the broken concrete

in this March storm. Such extravagance,

just as you said when

Beirut welcomed you back

after 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 Weeping

Jasmine bowers, and below them,

lovely benches for perennial grieving.



I close my eyes for a second, a stranger

in this place that should have been

my home, and I see your face again.  Oh, dreamy

first steps off the plane

rushing with the crowd

towards whatever happens

in 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– waving

on the other side of Customs

Ali, Ghassan, Mohammed—

their effusive welcoming. Each one

heaving a bag off the carrousel into a cart

and, for a moment  this could be

any other airport in the world

where we met up, De Gaulle,

Shoreham, Kahului—any other place

but  for the heavy scent of rose water

I  must be imagining

wafting through clouds of cigarette smoke.



In the drift of this stormy night

again there is the image of Ghassan

rushing 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 miles

along 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 water

and 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 venders

wheeling 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 confessions

burning 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.



The South


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 condos

in 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 boy

back and forth between here and Paris.

Later, the poet talking art

with 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 groves

then 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 when

we both know nothing

but our common loss.  They speak haltingly of

the 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 of

the 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 drives

taking each ascending turn slowly,

until we see the tall iron gates.

He pulls over on the shoulder,

and we start walking towards

the soldier posted there with

an AK47 in his lap—

guarding the dead,  the overgrown wisteria,

blue clusters hanging

like  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 way

through 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 words

above 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 roses

grateful, 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 again

with that irreducible affliction

that sooner or later marks us all.

You,  too-young-buried

sharing the grave of the father

you 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 born

as if disbelieving.



If I could, I would say something poetic to you

now—how rich the light here

under a huge Pollock-blue sky

on this magnificent hilltop

above the cyan sea you loved so much.

But in truth, there is only

a bereft silence

except for a gusting wind

now and then that trembles the

Weeping Winter Jasmine—a profusion of

heavy 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.