Friday 10 May 2024

One Long Poem by Hedy Habra


Meditations Over Phoenician Letters


Words were born at the dawn of time in Jbeil, Byblos, the

oldest inhabited city in the world. Symbols appeared

inscribed over the skin of goats and sheep, bearing visual

messages that sailed from shore to shore undergoing an

alchemical transformation, still echoing the same sounds

in other tongues.



Aleph for ox marking furrows in parallel lines, erect

like that first letter initiating the article, al for aleph, the one

and only of its kind, encompassing all meanings.



Beth, bayt for house as bosom, womb, al bayt, where

families gather around the homemade meal cooked over a

hearth, often bearing a burning dot under the cast iron tray.



Gimel for camel, ships of the desert, al gamal, battling

dunes as waves head bent, back curved under chests filled with

gold and spices, eyelids heavy with the secrets of Timbuktu.



Daleth for door, half open dal hospitality leading to al

dar, a heart with open valves to transfuse friendship, erase

boundaries, a steaming stew’s scents welcoming you in.



He for a window’s delicately laced wood, musharabiyehs

filtering the sun, letting the wind in, al hawa’ from each cardinal

point, allowing al hawa’s ethereal love to hover along the walls.



Waw for hook uniting letters forming words or setting

the tone as a vowel, mouth in awe for wow, al waw, asking for

more, doubled in the depths of noor, the light, and osfoor, the




Heth for stones erected for lamentations, al hayt,

separation, veiled with graffiti, muralist paintings, a wall to be

destroyed, leaving only its pillars for memory.



Yodh for yad, a hand for lovers hand in hand, for

building, cooking, painting, hand shaken in a peace agreement,

asking for a daughter’s hand, granting her hand. Would a girl’s

hand always belong to a man?



Kaph for palm, applause, al kaph, life lines filled with

expectations, holding a wealth of cherries or raspberries, a

measure for caresses, a palm filled with water to quench your




Lamedh, lam, for unattainable desire, frustrated

springs, a liquid lambda, flowing stream filled with lost

opportunities, forgetfulness, yearning to settle down on the

shores of earthly hope.



Mem, the letter mim, conjuring water: al may’ droplets

of dew, ripples or waves, ambrosia, gold nuggets buried in deep

wells for the desert voyager, Andalusian fountains whose

crystalline notes echo al oud.



Nun for the letter nun, for the tail of al thu’ban, curling

up into itself, an uroborus, nun, marked at times with a dot

for its piercing eye, the end and the beginning, a restless eel

leaping out in foaming spirals.



Aiyn for eye, a lidless eye lined with Kohl, right inside

Fatima’s palm, a blue amulet conjuring al ayn, the evil eye, the

Sight that opens the gilded gates of consciousness.



Pe or feh, al fam for mouth lined with carmine lips to

surround love words, the kiss, the silence, the breath, opening

and closing the door to the soul, the spirit of life or death.



Qoph, another sign for palm, yet closer to al qird for

monkey: it once was a gird for three monkeys, al qouroud,

spinning the wheel of fortune, the one on top flaunts a fleeting

crown, but his luck is changing, unless he’d master the wisdom

to say nothing, see nothing, hear nothing.




Resh, for head, al ra’s, harboring inner thoughts, true

feelings under hats or veils, the mirror we wish to present to the

world, the leader or dictator, the crowned hero or the beheaded.



Shin for tooth, al senn, losing one in a dream means

the passing of a loved one, losing them all at once is the end of

love. A tooth can be a sign of strength, a serpent’s fang, or a

way of identifying a skull.



Teth spins the thread of life around al takht for bed,

and al tamar the palm tree, the fabric lovers’ sheds are made

of, its dancing fronds inspire tales that conjure the simoon,

measure the inclination of the wind, drift into the unknown

under sand storms.



Samekh for fish, silvery scales glittering in circles, al

samak, intangible, mercurial, like words whispered in the dark,

slippery oaths and good omens in dreams, harbingers of

cornucopia when they rise from the bottom of your Turkish

coffee dregs.



Zaiyn for a sword shaped as a sickle, a scimitar, al

zayn, perfection, as the number seven and the mandala circle,

infusing inner beauty and grace for al zahra, a white blossom

delicate as jasmine, or al zohoor, an orange tree bursting with



First published by Sukoon Literary Journal

From The Taste of the Earth (Press 53 2019)

Hedy Habra has authored four poetry collections, most recently, Or Did You Ever See The Other Side? (Press 53 2023); The Taste of the Earth, won the Silver Nautilus Book Award; Tea in Heliopolis won the USA Best Book Award and Under Brushstrokes was an International Book Award finalist. Her story collection, Flying Carpets, won the Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention. Her book of criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa, examines the visual elements in the Peruvian Nobel Laureate's narrative. Habra holds a B.S. in Pharmacy. She earned an M.A. and an M.F.A. in English and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University where she has taught. A twenty-one-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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