Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Yoke (Concept of a Nation)

(To the Lebanese Bloggers of the War)

in our corners of the earth,
holding down the fort,
pretending to do something.

a code of song,
of longings of ten years ago,
and of love

to this concept of a nation,
this bowl of fire
in the guts.

This resonance of a woman’s voice
reverberating in the heat;
this prayer of desperation
that shudders under the familiarity of death;
this face, grown weary from
this concept of a nation.

The rhythm of days
has grown syncopated
in the largesse of your breath.

You, inhabiting the rubble,
the ghost streets and the night,
the night pregnant with the silence
of those who weren’t there.

You, parting the weight of the air
laden with age,
with truncated years.

You, carrying the clot of a promise
between your teeth
like a mother cat carries her young.

Lift the yoke of what remains
and trudge
_____forward, somewhere
the earth will exhale
and flatten her bust for you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


We kick them out so we can
fill the silence with nonsense;
_____a friendship dwindled
_____into the vestige of a dream.

The hallway stretches ahead
once more like a phone call
lagging a world in between.

Letters scratched off cereal boxes;
a life crammed into
the distance of a scream.
Replay the rhyme
like a country expecting
like the waiting,
Welcome the words back
still dusty from the rubble;
the ones that made it will do.

Those missing, have done their job;
they'll remain somewhere
in a sentence, in a thought.

Incomplete sentences are sentences,
too, in some languages
where the dead have names.

But for now, only hint at them--
you never knew them,
they never knew today.

Stick the alphabet, one after the other,
down the graves
where the soil is supple still.

One day a sentence will begin again
written with characters
they once knew.

They spelled their names
with all the voices of the earth
in a corner where the shadows never heave.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Open Discussion

I will be reading tomorrow, part of an open discussion on:

CEASE FIRE: The end of the US/Israel War in the Middle East?
Date: Tuesday, August 22nd
Time: 7pm.
Place: 48th & Baltimore Ave. (Calvary Church)
Featuring: Sara Flounders, Co-Director International Action Center

I hope you can make it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reading Tonight

I will be reading tonight at 6:30 pm in Center City at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia (2nd floor) on Rittenhouse Square.

1906 South Rittenhouse Square,
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 735-3456

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Willing Life Back to Normal

It's been strangely quiet in here, in my mind. I've been trying to will life back to normal, trying to shed the rigorous routines I've acquired in the past month. Exhaustion is evident in those around me, those that have been touched, even from a distance. My words seem trite and packaged to me; I feel like a news agency repeating the same tired script.

There's a strange quiet, a tangible vacuum in here. I want to pretend that this never happened, and it's easier for me to do so here. This is strangely reminding me of when my grandmother died. I wasn't there. Her death was sluggish to materialize. It took my going back home, to my grandparents house, for it to get closer to home. But even then she was simply strangely absent, like she just stepped out to get a bundle of bread and took a bit longer to return. Even seeing her grave didn't help that much in making it any more real. There was a marble slab with her name on it, her first name, which I never used anyhow. Just a name, and dates. But she wasn't there. I couldn't imagine her below, just like it was difficult to believe her to be dead. Her smell wasn't there, nor her ragged day dresses. There was just a strange absence, and nothing could be less tangible.

And here, I have only pictures. And voices. And words. There's the rubble, and here's my adamantly self-protective mind that wants to forget about it. And here's my world that is more than happy to conspire with me on pretending it never happened. Here's the concert in the park we went to last night, the refined string music, and the malevolently oblivious kids running around the pond. Here's this "civilized" culture that pretends it never killed anyone, it never paid for massacres, I never paid for massacres... It is easier to pretend that we're civilized when listening to violins in the night. It is too easy. I keep replaying old stale songs to remind me that this isn't it, that life is happening elsewhere, that life stopped elsewhere. But the songs with faded lyrics can barely compete with Bach. It is too easy to pretend we're civilized with Bach.

Yes, this is peace, this is serenity, this is affluence and plentitude, laying there, on the impeccable grass, pretending that it cost nothing. There's the rich of Chestnut Hill calling for someone to give their "meals on wheels" to. I pretend to forget my sister's message about the 500 or 5,000 that were stuck underground somewhere in the south of Lebanon without food for days, or the report about the people that had to drink from puddles of collected rain water that was closer in consistency to mud, and had started greening already with algae. I pretend this has never happened before, elsewhere, and will never happen again. I pretend that this is all there is, this concert, the good food, and my strangely silent company.

Mazen's mother's birthday was weighing on his mind. And on ours. He was supposed to be with her for it, in that World Before Any Of This Happened. There was the Peace my mother believed in in that World, the Life As It Was Happening Before. There was life as I remember it too vividly, as I try to will it again. The life with its infinite small details that have become strangely irrelevant now. And there's the silence, this unrelenting silence in my mind, that gets quickly filled, at the first thought of words, with old fragments of song, of Fairouz wailing, "Ya natreen el-talj, ma aad badkoun tirja'ou?" You waiting for the snow, don't you want to come back?

(Illustration courtesy of Ben Heine)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Sublime Robert Fisk Pieces

San Francisco Chronicle reveals...

A couple of distressing articles in the San Francisco Chronicle reveal that:
(And it is my tax dollars that are paying for it... Just a final stab in the heart!)


That same night they bombed the mosque at the cemetery at the end of our street in el-Dahyeh, where my grandma is buried; I have never been happier that she's already dead. (So much for "Rest In Peace"!) No wonder my mother and sister are starting to think they can feel her ghost sitting by their side on the bed in the mountains; it must have taken her a week or two to walk up there... In their hurry, people always leave the dead behind.

That night, they also created some new tenants for the cemetery, right from the buildings next door (though they have to dig them out of the rubble still). Forty of them, my sister said.

Yesterday my mom opened her pharmacy again, at the other end of the same street. Not all the neighbors, or employees, are back; but those there were happy to get some long-needed pills.

Today I heard a reporter on the radio saying that the Dahyeh smelled old, like an abandoned house. Or a woman by the side of the road.

A photo of what remains of a nearby pharmacy of my mother's colleague .
Click on it for more photos that my friend Eve took.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Literary Voices of Dissent

Here's an assortment of some literary heavyweights and intellectuals speaking out against the recent atrocities in the Middle East; certainly worth listening to:
  • Jostein Gaarder (the author of 'Sophie's World') has written a very courageous and outspoken letter titled "God's Chosen People" that you can find translated into English here.
  • Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Howard Zinn, Ken Loach, John Berger, and Arundhati Roy have signed a joint letter titled "War crimes and Lebanon" in The Guardian.
  • A Letter from 18 Writers, including three Nobel Prize recipients, has been reprinted in The Nation, as well as Le Monde, El País, The Independent and La Repubblica, amongst others.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

FROM EXILE TO THE PRISON: What shall I tell Jana?

(This is a translation of a very moving article that a great friend of mine, Roland, wrote in French, and that has been published in Canada where he had recently emigrated. He is now back in Lebanon; I'll let him speak for himself... I have translated the article into English here; the original text in French can be found here. And I'd like to thank Eve, Delirious, and Arlene for looking over my translation.)

On Tuesday July 25, 2006, while Canadians of Lebanese origin and the Lebanese with dual-citizenship descended onto the ports of their "promised land", I did what my heart and convictions begged me to do: I took a Montreal-Paris-Damascus flight to join my family and my country that have been abandoned to Israeli fire and death. The road from Damascus to Beirut, in the middle of the night, was a true nightmare: the sound of the planes roaring above the taxi (the only one that was as insane as I and that had agreed to take the risk) seemed like the drum of death that I had to witness up-close.

I knew that I had come to help, but I did not know how. One week already and I know that I will never look at life the same way again. Last Thursday I joined a group of young people, between the ages of 25 and 35, who had decided to remain and face this atrocious war. It’s been one week since I’ve joined them, each day in a different school, where hundreds of thousands of displaced, dismembered and shocked families were piled up, families of which one or two members have remained under the rubble, these fragments of families a part of which has been lost for good under the shells.

In the over-populated schools, these refugees survive under precarious conditions: the meager and rare food portions, some drugs for the cardiac patients and diabetics. We try to keep the children occupied, because they are hungry and, even more so, afraid: they cannot sleep, with the night being torn by the noise and vibrations of Israeli bombardments. Today we decided to make them dream.

With paints I drew on their small tired faces stars, moustaches, zebra stripes... And each one of them, for one afternoon, believed themselves to be a magician, a tiger or a lion, and could overcome their misery to spend the night on a small carpet on the ground with a bread crumb for dinner.

Jana is 6 years old. It’s been two days now that I’ve met her at the "concentration camp" (it is the best description I can find to describe these small rooms where the refugees pile up). Her father, who remained in Tyre to care for the sick grandmother, never returned. Jana is soft and seldom smiles. Today, she asked me to draw white flowers for her on her two pale cheeks. And, as if by magic, I also could draw for the first time a smile on her small angelic mouth. She did not let go of my hand for the rest of the day.

In the evening, when leaving, she looked at me and said: "If you come to our place in Tyre, I will give you a white rose from my rose tree which I planted with my grandmother." I looked at her soft innocent face as her words pierced my heart.

While driving home, I could not stop thinking of Jana, with her white rose tree tinted with blood, at her house crushed by missiles, with her grandmother and her father of whom nothing remains but ashes.

What shall I tell Jana? That the Grown-ups didn't want to stop the fire and that nothing remains of her childhood but memories? That the blood of her father stained the white rose tree and that he has left forever? That she has no one left anymore but her mother and her 2 year old brother and a few pennies, that she has nothing for shelter but a corner of the street without roof nor harbor?

What shall I tell Jana, that the grown-ups of this world claim that, for every answer, the response is "measured "?

I smiled to Jana and the broken heart I left in Beirut, a phantom city as of 3 p.m., not knowing if the night would bring more devastation and if the death of other children qualifying as "measured response" would be added to our misery.

I thought of Jana, while at home, waiting for the Israeli planes to release their beautiful gifts from the sky to the children of Lebanon... I thought of Jana and the other innocent children; I felt revolt at this cleansing blessed and legitimized by certain great powers. And I ask you to answer Jana yourself, you, citizens of the world spared of misery, because I feel ashamed to tell her what the Grown-ups approve still, until this very moment...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Thank God (/Apple?) for iPods!

A new message from my sister in Lebanon about the iPod Nano I got her for her graduation, exactly a month ago, just days before this nightmare began...
"I just wanted to thank u for the ipod. I listen to it every morning when I wake up, & at night (so that I don't hear the planes & explosions). I love it, & I LOVE U!"

Monday, August 07, 2006

Poetry Reading to Call for Peace

I'd like to thank everyone who showed up today and made it such a great success! We managed to raise $250 for charity, not bad for a poetry reading in a small cafe. I thank everyone for their generosity; InFusion cafe; Berta for the video; and our 3 wonderful readers! And I'll keep you posted about whether Al-Arabiyya will broadcast any excerpts, and if so when.

All my best,



Ashraf Osman
Also Featuring
Laurie Pollack
Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore
Arlene Bernstein

WHEN: Sunday, August 6, from 4 to 6 pm
WHERE: InFusion Coffee & Tea
7133 Germantown Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19119

$5 Suggested Donation
All proceeds go toward the UNICEF Emergency Relief Fund

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

An e-mail from my sister in Lebanon

To Bouboo in war

. . . We’re staying here, where the war hasn’t reached yet, for how long, I don’t know. There’s no bombing here, no shooting, the children play football all day, and people are gathered on the balconies having coffee and argheeleh, and yet we don’t feel safe. Every night when we go to bed, we fall sleep on the sound of “ta2irat el-2istitla3” [reconnaissance planes], and on bad nights, the low flying of military planes. The sound makes you wonder whether you’ll be tomorrow’s headlines or whether it’s someone else’s turn. Most nights I wonder if I’m going to wake up the next morning, and if we’re all going to be OK. I got used to sleeping on the ground after we decided that the living room is safer than our bedrooms (since the bedrooms have a panoramic view whereas the living room faces another building). For 19 days now, every night, I pull down the living room “tara7at” [cushions], spread my sheets and my pillow, and gather the things that are dearest to my heart in a small bag that I keep right next to me on the floor. Every morning I wake up, take my sheets and pillow to the bedroom, make my bed, put “el tara7at” back into place, and hide the small bag in my closet. The lies we like to believe…I’ve watched hundreds of buildings fall since the war started, and not one, not one, had a preserved room. They crumble like sandcastles, and the waves make no difference between a living room and a bedroom, or between a mattress and a bed.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I thank God a million times for being so lucky. I’ve seen families standing on the pavement waiting for a ride to safety when the Israelis threw “manshourat” [flyers] on El-Da7yeh, but all buses were full, and everyone was escaping with no regard to whom is left behind. I’ve seen men leave their houses and their stores with nothing in hand except pocket money and ID (el-hawiye), and then sit in a stranger’s house watching on TV their lives’ work and savings getting burnt into pieces. I’ve seen children, women, and elderly stacked in school corridors, waiting for someone to pass food and water for them and their babies. I’ve seen youngsters in the prime of their lives, sleeping in gardens (jnaynit el-sanayi3), being photographed and videotaped like zoo animals, deprived of any form of shelter and privacy. I’ve seen doctors in the South screaming on TV that the hospital in their surrounded (mo7asar) village needs anesthetics because they ran out of drugs and they’re operating on lucid and conscious patients. I’m talking about living people since I started out by saying that this e-mail is not going to be about the massacres, it’s not about the dead. . .

(Please read all here.)

A Call to Action for All American Citizens & Residents

Tell your government that you don't support this!

Congress voted on resolutions calling for staunch support of Israel (see above). Here’s your chance to make your voices heard in Washington. Click here to tell your government what it should do with regards to the Israel-Lebanon Conflict, and that you oppose the resolution of support for Israel. Please make sure to invite your friends and family to do the same. Thank you!

"The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."

The Last Lullaby (for Lebanon)

My dear friend Yasmin of Schadenfraulines has written a heartrending poem "in memory of the Qana Massacre" called The Last Lullaby (for Lebanon).

She has also written this touching poem of encouragement for me and Lebanon:

there was a time
when a butterscotched tongue
was your candied retreat

now tin soldiers have sacked the sandman
and crept away with the last thick crumbs of sleep
sliding your peace under and out the door

where all the stars have fallen

but like Colossus
(remember, you towered tall like him once before
you run on burning feet
scooping them up
and hurling them back into the sky
Yasmin, I thank you immensely...

Many great poets have also contributed to my dear friend Katy's poetic Call to Arms at Poets101. I thank them all!