There are poverties and there are poverties Adrienne Rich I hear your neighbor has trouble sleeping, trouble eating, that she changes her door locks every week and has brought all her plants indoor, hid her Bible under the mattress. Though the streets are not safe, you say, you still go out every night to forget— or is it to remember? Am I exaggerating? I hear Hamra is not the same anymore: Syrian refugees on the streets, men begging, children selling roses, selling roses, why are the doomed always selling roses? You say you don’t know whether to fear for them or fear them. I hear these borders have been failing, have failed, will fail, these fake borders will shift like continents, I wonder whether memory could go back to the supercontinent, tell me who is holding the big crayons this time, and what color will our share of sky be, to which God will it be forced to answer? There is exile, my friend, and there is exile. My husband, he keeps telling me the Salafis are coming, the Salafis are coming, says we should sell the house and buy one here, in this exile, this desert, because home is no longer the home we knew when we were young, and I shout, I laugh, I break something, tell him home was never the home we knew, the one we wanted, the one we imagined when we were young and didn’t listen to the evening news, heard only the absurd voices inside us, those voices with big hands that pushed us fully-clothed off high rocks and into the icy water, our arms beating like wings to fly back up from its dark depth for breath. I tell him I believe, I still believe, I repeat myself like that broken CD of ours that got stuck on “will always,” “will always,” but he has burnt holy books, newspapers, manifestos, a long time ago, like one who’s lost in the woods and wants to scare away the wolves. He wakes me up in the middle of the night, hand brushing my breast, and tells me to look, listen to that Palestinian guy from Gaza, he’s the new Arab Idol, he used to sing at weddings, never got paid, crossed borders, climbed walls, smuggled his dream, just to feed a little prayer into this microphone. There is religion, my friend, and there is religion. You say the theaters are still open, and I see red wooden doors, and people eager to watch that play enacted by the inmates of that horrible prison, and that play by the patients in the psychiatric ward, and that play about a woman who wakes her husband in the early morning to tell him she might have stopped knowing how to trace the aroma of her coffee back to their occupied house. I hear we are still running marathons and exhaling shisha smoke, I hear we’re still diving in this polluted sea, diving in this polluted sky, looking for our black hearts like precious pearls, singing songs that are either about love or our country, and better still, about love and our country, for we want them both to open their arms and take us into their mud, their pain. There is longing, my friend, and there is longing. I tell you the shooting is heavier in Tripoli this Friday, that people are afraid of prayer day now, they’re afraid of prayer; will the sound of the azan never be pure to my ears again? Listen, the shooting is heavier in Tripoli today, so don’t take that roundabout, the one with the word Allah painted green, it’s probably blocked, all motorcycles and black smoke, tires burning, people cursing around it in the name of this stone-God erected in its middle. I gulped Tequila shots and danced until dawn, until the phone rang and I was told my daughter was feverish, no Panadol would do, and I knew it was another kind of fever, the kind that a child who longs for her mother burns with, the kind the exiled longing for their houses burn with, the kind that could fill mountains with hate like lava, turn them into volcanos, these mountains that never wanted anything but a little sun, a little air, a little grass. There is guilt, my friend, and there is guilt. I hear your friend in Damascus who has three kids hasn’t left, crosses herself many times a day, convinces herself life is fine, life is fine and doesn’t care who wins, really, she just wants her boys to play football in the street again. I tell you, See? Egypt hasn’t given up, I knew it wouldn’t, not Egypt, no, and of course I exaggerate but who cares about the Second Coming now that we have a Second Revolution? You say the word revolution also means turning around something else. I ask you about that tree with beautiful leaves across the street, is it still there? Does the wind still release the song of the sea from its branches? You say it’s strange that I only seem to remember it in spring, you remind me that the leaves I listen to every year are different leaves that have replaced the fallen ones, that they have no memory of you and me on this street, perhaps it’s better to look for ourselves in the brown ones rustling on the floor. You say we might be on the verge, on the verge of another civil war, and what on earth do we do if it comes, how long can one pretend to exist outside of this, when blood might flood the streets instead of rain? What flowers will grow then? And where will we bury our dead? There is Spring, my friend, and there is Spring.
Pushcart nominee Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet with a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Nimrod, Folio, Cream City Review, Copper Nickel, Crosstimbers, Quiddity, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry, and Mizna, among others. She lives in Dubai with her husband and two daughters, where she regularly performs her poetry.