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The Bedrooms of Refugees

December 12, 2023

Beirut, January 2013

“The rain falls hard on a humdrum town
This town has dragged you down”

—The Smiths

Impending storm of tomorrow in Beirut, protect the man sleeping in my hair.

Our nights are ill prepared. Ceilings seep, creaky faucets drip, our hands roll & roll. We
exhale spicy fog as our eyes itch. Our toes stumble, the streets mud streams,
connections falter, our people disappear.
Skirts slap against whiplashed hips as sewers drown our disbelief in kissing.
It is the no-new news week between more steel walls on lands seized, more borders
for the rain to not lick clean.
Storm of tonight in my Beirut; bring alms, bring rough dark
bread, bring arak, bring tangerines & sequins & thick smoke & sleep.


My hands pick at the offering of war tales you carry;
bounty from exile, now at home on your back.
I sift through the debris families hurt into you.

We recognize those whose sadness speaks the same language would be my guess,
but what do I know tonight of land burnt, or dead soldiers strewn,
of childbirth ick in camps or hatred, or love or peace.
And why can’t I fuck your beauty without history?
Why can’t we find a home to keep?


Us with no carpets
without pets, without plants, without the correct identification numbers
required to trudge the right sidewalks in this homeland gestating
twisted fates, still-born often, & yet pregnant with your stunning face.
You, you have a perfect Arab face.

All you need is a little eyeliner
trust me


Keep your war songs to yourself.
I don’t want to hunt, to press palms against
cuts, offer aloe vera, bring cinnamon, clutch throats
dizzy in drink, sticky ice rips in my teeth, holding heat
from match-flames cupped in spider web conversation.

How can the bullet holes we safeguarded teach us of your skin?
Is your body undulating the skies opening & closing on Beirut?

How she breaks, in tussled bed-corners, in southern dirty
sea water & northern filthy sea water. Prophets
cheating, her grapefruit bitter, our eyes disheveled, wrung out, beat.
Voice growling like Beirut’s aural assault spheres.
How to draw parallels to your husky Faransi? Splintered incognito
brash English? 3arabi into my ear when you can’t breathe—
Taybeh, you say. Taybeh—tasty to the need.

Don’t believe it. I told you, I’m the girl filled salt and acid.
Here ruin, here rubble un-removed. Here also, disease.

Here in the city dawn, I steer your breathing,
the way your rising waist is a ship
a horizon clear


The homeless felines fuck their brains out in our winter.
Beirut staircases/ragged cats curl raspy tongues.
I sweat. I knead. I seep.
Muffled piercing clacks of flung bodies abandon/us & this
foul-mouthed storm & witness sheets.
Cat yowls warning of you/rumps writhing/writing my claw blood into walls.

In your wake, smashed concrete & frangipani at your feet.


Flushed pomegranate magenta, it is impossible to write
about the gnarl—the fucking humming

with any form of learned literacy. I don’t have the allegories.
Read more, my parents might have said, in the lives they left.

Consider Greek myths, truth stories from the Torah, chemistry
of love occults rabid. Break biology, understand the sky
as music, memorize the movement of planets while we stood still—and I,
I am often only skanky pop words, fizzle bubble-gum
syntax empty, ingested addictive additives dripping
down your chin—sticky, rotten, sweet.


You chew & spit my breath—sustenance, even for us, non-starving us
not in Zaatari, not in Midan, but, in my bed high, us—& my crushed fingers agree:
maybe this is a prayer for the raped Syrian streets.

We hymn in thrusts for the women, snaking in as braids of salt.
Filling up cupboards with minerals evaporating
from this Med sea we weep. My flooded Palestinian throat, my lightening rod teeth.
This here, beautiful young man, who should not remind me of Damascus but does,
this is not a poem about what happened to your father, nor mine.

Not a poem about your aged tired mother’s face nearly described,
then held back for shame. Not a eulogy for the young skin dulled
in the absence of Yasmine. This here is not praise
for you to love me, nor for Beirut to think she is forgiven.

This is an ode to your hard hip bones in rhythm.
Come here,
come here


You forgot them, you tell me;
the dead, the disappeared, the wounded & the dismally strong,
the young, & stressed, the oppressed & hopeful cripples of Falasteen.
Cinders of what cactus they planted, what dogs they fed,
what fingers bloomed in Galilee.
Yet, you carry intimate silences of the green-eyed children from Nazareth.
You have in you, the heady glitter of Damascus.

You remind me of the dusk of Hamra before they fixed the neon signs,
before they killed the Jacaranda trees.


Bandaged speech patterns in temples unfamiliar, you are.

Bedouin, he tells me. Proudly without wanting to—
like that explains the harsh eyelashes,
like that draws moody curves of pouty lips but I,
I see your Jordan valley. There, savage tales
of what we may have been left of land.
They chopped our breasts, & beat our tongues entrails
to the ground and took, & took what we might have been promised of sea
foam, what olive groves they said would glow
silver, what Arabian streams now sting the feet.
Do not speak to me of Palestine, & your citrus-stitched wounds & ginger tea.

Dark lover, brown man of my hemlock words brewing,


And learn this, you broken god,
learn it well—you cannot rob a flushed woman of her words for long.

They are mine. They belong in my quiet. And in my writhing.
Remove them off my body, where you have nailed them.
Send not your wrists to rub bellies. Tell my thighs
not to ghazal your clavicles. Tell my knee not to pull you, & hook, & heave.
Leave my face be. And my old curls, for they are brave.
You keep your sunk kisses—cry for them in lucid work-shift hours.
I have none left, before I leave.
And you, exile memory
of all refugees, all the war stories you carry, be gone.
I have none left, before I leave, in defeat.

And you, Beirut,
stop it, just stop it,
you bitch.

This poem appeared in We Call to the Eye & the Night: Love Poems by Writers of Arab Heritage, edited by Hala Alyan and Zeina Hashem Beck and published by Persea Books.