Friday 24 June 2022

One Poem by Hedy Habra



Thirty-five years later, Beirut’s Pigeons’ Rock

                        forever mute witness of the civil war


a huge rock erect

   where purple evenings

conjure Phoenician sails,

a backdrop to tales heard

   as a child, of lovers hiding,

often drowning in its grotto's

emerald tears. 

   I used to imagine

how the Champollion,

a ship venturing too close,

   lay trapped for years

in blue mist,

her insides

torn apart by this Giant's

   unclenched fist,

stopped in slow motion,

in an idle attempt to rise,

petrified by salt spray,

  her remains buried

in quicksand

in the midst of the Bay.


A fallen Olympian,

   forever flanked

by dancing waves,

its ire, our inner

   obscure well, as if

casting a black

cloud over the former

brightness of sails,

   rustling canopies,

over our steps along

the Promenade des Français,


breeze flowing

through my curls, gusts

   of wind sculpting

our bodies, redesigning


erasing footsteps,

   echoes of laughter,

muffled sighs,

all the people

long gone.


Some, as pawns

   on a map, glided to

another turquoise Bay,

in Jounieh,

along the wavering coastline,

      an ersatz, surviving its artifice...

There, people of the same faith

pull on the narguilehs

in the cafés,

play dice and backgammon,


   women of the same clan

stretch their smooth,

lustrous bodies

   under the midday sun

deserting Raoucheh's corniche

its rocky shores now crowded

   only by male bathers

and fishermen,


while the imposing stone horseshoe

clamped in indigo

   is no longer a good omen

after so many years

of fallen,

dismantled bodies

   blown up theatres,

casinos, snipers’ crossfire

from deserted terraces,

   the air still remembers

the smell of fear

and gunpowder,


its acrid taste unmasked

   by the unrelenting fumes

of daily exhausts. 

In every corner,

   next to a restored building,

an old house stands, scarred,



   awaiting mouth agape

the miraculous facelift.

The burning sun tires

   of recycling endless debris                          

left over by thousands,

the waste of hatred,

   and time, once a healer

broods despair.


Some far away will dream

  a laced balcony,

delicate mosaics, unfaded,

   patina adding its final touch

to pink façades, sepia walls

faceted stones,

   deeply engraved in the retina

unfolding in the mirrors

of our minds.


I recall how wafts of orange blossoms

mixed with effluvia

of salty breeze,

   once whispering under pillars

and arcades, would reach us

as we rested under a Jacaranda’s

   trembling blue shade.


I often gazed through thick glass,

   at the delicate displays of vials and flasks

rescued from the depths

of Tyre and Sidon

gilded by time,

   marvelled at the fluidity of erosion

over blown glass

and burnished metals,

all pearl-like treasures forever gone,


   like so many of us,

the lucky ones

fading away in distant lands

   dreaming new dreams,

our children unaware

of what is no longer there,

   unable to hear the voices

we cannot silence


the song of the orphans

the song of the fishermen's nets

the song of the abandoned house

the song of the goat living in a palace

the song of the refugees milking a goat over Persian carpets

the song of the windshields constellated with stars of death

the song of the driver forced to leave his car at an intersection

the song of an entire school bus emasculated because they were Maronites

the song of mothers and children blown up because they were not Maronites

the song of a town torn apart, its children hanging like heavy fruits from olive

   and almond-trees, nipples and testicles dripping with blood on the lower branches

the song still heard through murmuring leaves, cacti and pine needles, as the roots remember

the song of Beirut burning us safe watching the flames from a hill,

   waiting for the madness to reach the mountains

the song of the man who never returned home, his head rolling behind his car

the song of a fool who crossed the green line to meet his Muslim lover,

   only to be found the next day in a small bag under the infamous bridge

the song of the silent ride over the bridge of death, the only way to the airport. 

I ran to have a passport picture taken with the two of you,

   tried to comb your hair as best as I could.

Your hair so fine, it curled around my fingers.



First published by Mizna Literary Journal

From Tea in Heliopolis (Press 53 2013)

Hedy Habra is a poet, artist and essayist. She is the author of three poetry collections from Press 53, most recently, The Taste of the Earth (2019), Winner of the Silver Nautilus Book Award and Honorable Mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award; Tea in Heliopolis Winner of the Best Book Award and Under Brushstrokes, which was a Finalist for the Best Book Award and the International Book Award. Her story collection, Flying Carpets, won the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention and was Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. A seventeen-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the net, and recipient of the Nazim Hikmet Award, her multilingual work appears in numerous journals and anthologies.



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