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Only the Clotheslines Knew: Poems by Zeina Hashem Beck

‘You’ve memorized its bends like a prayer, / its long silver-gray hair, / its cigarettes, its favorite / songs and curse words, / the holes in its shirts.’

By Zeina Hashem Beck
Poetry | Arabic, Beirut, home, humor, parenting
April 12, 2016

Come hear Zeina Hashem Beck read alongside Haya Alyan and J. Mae Barizo tonight, Tuesday, April 12, at AAWW.


I Dreamt We Threw Bread Crumbs


I dreamt we threw bread crumbs
in the sea, waited to catch
a glimpse of our hunger, our hope,
rising out of this dark.

You fished out a tin can;
before we ate it
you told me to listen to the prayer
inside it—our prayer.

You mapped my body in chalk
on the sidewalk. My longing
was ruby-colored. I wore it
around my neck, and everything
was drunkenness and dance, every day
a kind of drowning—

the shawarma on the skewers,
the plastic roses in the children’s hands,
the antennas scribbled across the sky.
Only the clotheslines knew
of our leaving and returning,
and they wept.




Louder Than Hearts and Derbakkehs


The woman in me is thousands
of years old, her voice louder
than hearts and derbakkehs.

She calls her children from the farthest
room in the house, screams, Yalla or else,
says, Eat your food and be grateful. Finish
your plate
. And despite all

the parenting books I’ve read,
the ones with instructions
like Talk calmly to the child,
Stoop down to child eye level
she still comes out

yelling from her height
at my kids when they don’t listen.
She gestures, brings thumb and index together,
threatens them with, Wallah wallah you’ll see,
never shows them. She screams

across corridors, from balconies, in playgrounds,
across landmine fields, broken houses, waste lands.

Some days I manage to put her to sleep,
light her a cigarette, or pour her
a cup of coffee. Some days she boils
in my blood, says, Out of my way.
Some days, I hold her in my arms,
rock her back and forth, let her cry.




Winged Carrots


You call them guardians,
these winged carrots
graffitied on the walls,
because you know
they take flight in your sleep,
land on rooftops, on clotheslines,
shield orphaned dreams
with their little black wings.

You call it the sign
because you have to look up
toward the sky to notice
it says “Rooms for Rent,”
it is white, it rusts
from an old balcony,
the Arabic letters flake.

You call him Thyme
because he sweeps his bakery,
gathers the day, the zaatar dust,
always at the same hour.
Bonjour,” he chants,
no matter what the time is,
as if words could lift
the falling darkness.

You call it orange,
this elevator with painted walls,
because in a city where walls
yield, where rails rust,
where litter fills the streets
like abandoned punctuation,
it has managed to keep
its color.

You call it god, this sidewalk,
because you carry it with you everywhere:
in your pockets, your footsteps.
You’ve memorized its bends like a prayer,
its long silver-gray hair,
its cigarettes, its favorite
songs and curse words,
the holes in its shirts.

You call it evening
because of the way the rain
seeps through the streetlights,
carries some of their radiance, drips
on the green garbage bags,
on the bottles your neighbor lines outside.

You call it Beirut
because you have no other name
for the way trees and antennas tilt in the wind,
the wind always, the certainty of the wind.

(“Winged Carrots” originally published in To Live in Autumn, The Backwaters Press, 2014)