Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beirut Journal: Memories (For Hass Mroue)


Beirut is the city of scars. Everywhere in that city there are reminders of pain, of the vicious attempts at destroying ways of life. The walls of homes are full of bullet holes. The homes, themselves, full of people who are trying not to remember how these scars got there.

Fighting against memory is different than trying to forget.

New hotels for Gulf and Western businessmen, luxury automobiles and plastic surgery are the manifestations of this attempt at amnesia. The Beirutis are moving forward, into some sort of new day, literally altering their personal and civic landscapes. The former militia leaders now lead the country. European suits and neckties have replaced berets and bandoleros. They are the beneficiaries of the terrible war. Their interests are vested in their people stifling their pain.

I think this is dangerous. I think that the people will need, at some point, to have their say.

I'm thinking of Haas Mroue. The brilliant, and forgotten poet. His book "Beirut Seizures" survived one printing, and now lays buried beneath the bones of thousands of men and women and children killed in his city. The poems he carved on those pages were an attempt to reconcile a terrible past, and to move into a sanctified future. He realized that the surpression of memory is perilous.

He returned to the city of his birth a couple years ago, at 41. His heart attacked him, and now he's gone.

He was a friend to me. He taught me about Fairuz and Rumi. About the beauty of song and poetry. He is the reason I went to Beirut, in fact. I wanted to discover this place that he struggled to come to terms with.

What was it that stopped his heart? Perhaps the scars were too much to bear. Maybe he never could get past his memory. Perhaps it was isolation. With so many of his people fighting against the sharing of history, maybe he felt that his homeland was no longer for him. Maybe the war never ended for him. For, I think it did kill him.

The following two poems are from "Beirut Seizures."

"Alien Anger"

I am a human being.
Nothing human is alien to me.

Soldiers stop my car
pull me out
they wear long coats
and gas masks.
"You're an alien,"
they tell me
and kick my genitals.
It starts to rain
water on thick coats
splattering like boiling rice pudding.
I'm doubled over
at the checkpoint of aliens
where third world people
line up for white chocolate
filled with orange liquer
and arsenic.
Where do you come from?
I don't answer.
I wheeze
and they kick my genitals.
It starts to snow
tiny white flakes.
My lips are fire
where were you born
they ask me
I don't know
on a mountaintop
in space
under water
anywhere but here
where I'm a minority.

Sometimes I want to throw my face
Listen closely
I don't want to be buried
burn me
burn me above the tree line
where the air is thin
and the lightning strikes
maybe I'll be reborn
somewhere in the midwest
a tractor-riding, corn-growing
blond farmer kid
who never halts
at the checkpoint of aliens.

Have you gone mad? Please
Do not write about these things

I need to write about
how a stray bullet chooses a neck, a temple
and buries itself in gut
how a mother waits in the dark
for her son--fifty pieces in a sack
delivered to her doorstep
how toes curl unto themselves
and skin hardens and turns coarse
like burned sugar
how teeth seem brighter on burned skin
a Kolynos moment missed
how the hair is lumpy and glued with blood
how eyes without lashes seem surprised
one hundred forty four thousand and counting.
I need to write about these things
because I need to forget.

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