Two Poems by Zeina Hashem Beck
Broken Ghazal: Speak Arabic
I write in English the way I roam foreign cities—full of streetlight
& betrayal, until I find a coffee shop that speaks Arabic.
If we were born in the cities we long for, Love—Paris, Prague, New York—
what languages would they have taught us to speak? Arabic
says the best singers are the peddlers. & the Qur’an,
would it still lift us if it didn’t speak Arabic?
Sure, there is always Lennon, but I wonder if we would have found
Sheikh Imam, who reminds us the wound is awake & love speaks Arabic,
who reminds us no one can colonize a river, & the tyrant
is always afraid of the poet, especially if she speaks Arabic.
They say people who grow up in two languages have stronger
memories, & they can hear the birds on the balconies speak Arabic,
& they know a mountain of orange life jackets looks like
spring, though it won’t revive the dead, who speak Arabic
but no longer need a visa, or translation. & you, Zeina, what else
can you do but whisper to these broken lines, Speak. Speak Arabic.
(Note: Sheikh Imam was an Egyptian singer and composer (1918–1995), famous
for his politically engaged, satirical songs, and his collaboration with Egyptian
colloquial poet, Ahmed Fouad Negm.)
I heard the children of Yarmouk
have eaten the tree birds. By this I mean
how are you?
Do you have a piano? By this I mean
the kind that licks your heart clean
the way the sun burns & brightens
the sky, even after night raids.
Do you wait? By this I mean
hell here has a vestibule—in it
Aeham plays the piano. He calls it
Piano of The Siege, calls it
Brother. By this he means
even the dried pit of a song
is country, is food for now.
Do you have streets? Here in the camps,
we name our streets after the cities
we’ve lost. By this I mean we have heard
the rivers of our cities call us
like blind old women in empty living rooms.
I love you. By this I mean
do you have another name?
By this I mean there are armies
who shout your name & burn
houses & pianos. Come back.
Yesterday I saw a fish flailing
in the mouth of a seagull.
For a moment it seemed the bird
was choking, the fish diving upward
for air. By this I mean
do you see us dance?