Often we met at Mr. Ali Beheshti’s
for a ride to his laundry, where Hamoudi and I worked,
so far only in winter months, when heat from the dryers
was tempered by Mediterranean breezes, alhamdulillah,
praise God, as the Muslims had taught me to say
in the event of anything short of haram, or God forbid,
which the laundry was almost,
now that March had begun prickling us
with the gentlest—alhamdulillah—hints of summer.
Mr. Beheshti’s home had bright marble tables,
chairs carven from imported wood,
and ochre carpets from Iran.
In one corner was a little shrine
to his brother-in-law-in-the-Resistance,
as Lebanese call it:
three shelves of dog tags, ribbons, medals,
gazelle and horse figurines,
inlaid boxes, a golden sword embossed
with curlicues of Arabic calligraphy,
and photos of bearded imams,
one with the brother-in-law-in-the-Resistance,
who held a Hezbollah flag:
summer yellow with AK-47, green, on high.
Mr. Beheshti’s clamshell sounded an electronic Baladi:
“Alhamdulillah,” I heard,
a short-cut for “I’m fine.”
Later, Mr. Beheshti gave us the play-by-play
for the call, which was from
who wanted to discuss fútbol,
the match between Russia and Brazil,
and everone’s hero, Ronaldo, the great Brazilian striker.
It was a friendly match;
the big battle would come
in the World Cup this summer, so the important thing,
was that no one get injured, insha’Allah.
The cold was in Russia’s favor,
but, fifteen minutes into the match,
Brazil’s captain Roberto Carlos crossed the Russian line
fifty meters from the goal, prepared to pass
to Ronaldo, who waited behind a four-man bulwark,
but Carlos, faking it, tapped the ball two steps ahead
and—surprise!—booted straight through
for a goooooooooooalhamdulillah!
but not before Ronaldo threw out his arm,
and almost committed haram
when the ball hit him on the way.
W-állah! The path is narrow, Ali.
One-zero to the end, Brazil played hard defense with substitutes,
because the important thing
was that none should fall
before the big battle to come.
The sun rose twice on the cooling sea,
its gleams and shadows cross-fading with the hours,
through shine, shadow, red ochre, and night,
but —haram—the brother-in-law-in-the-Resistance
would not be around
for the big battle to come.
July 2006: Sanayeh Park
Thousands of new customers for Mr. Beheshti’s laundry
showed up across the street in Sanayeh Park,
fleeing Israeli bombs. They do
what refugees always do: wait,
stink, sicken, puke, overfill the shitters, and feed
mosquitoes and fleas with their blood.
The park is beautiful, with encroachments:
Households on mattresses replace perpetual backgammon tourneys
under broad eucalyptus, drinking fountains that invite
with scrolled niches are dry;
two water tanks leak into trampled mud.
Around a sculpture of hydrothermal vents
and encrusted lava, no undersea life emerges,
but lean-tos trap the heat for the old and
a wheelchaired man who drowses
in the foetid shadow as if drugged.
Mothers tucking sodden strands beneath their headscarves
are too exhausted to consider the open air danger;
for now, misery is a sufficient respite.
The few ministers of national solidarity
operate from a pillar gouged
with a reverse relief of Lebanon,
deeper layers marking mountain retreats.
Here Bcharré, home of Falange fascists and Khalil Gibran,
who peddled mystic poems in New York;
here the last cedars; here the pass to Beqa’a, where
Hamoudi’s moving hashish to finance Turkish passports.
Here also the chalk graffiti saying Ali Alebraham,
Yatya, and Moody (with telephone number)
were here, Nour K was Near, and even Kilroy,
with his drooping nose, was here.
I almost laugh. Here am I.
The joke cracks a hole in space-time
and I’m standing with Cara warriors
dragged to the shoals of Blood Lake, naked
as machine-plucked hens,
with Carthaginians driven from salted fields,
Negroes herded wholesale by Arab slavers,
multitudes more exiled by Nebuchadnezzar,
Andrew Jackson, Ghengis Khan, Irgun, Daesh.
Hamoudi arrives with the passports:
I’m out of here.
July 2006: Hamoudi and Jacobo Escape Beirut
Whoe ever got evacuated didnt c shit from the war , us, the people who were stuck in the country knew it was getting serious after the evacuation which it did!, stop acting all war traumatized you didnt c shit from it, heh,,, cry babies with their foreigners passports and citizenchips. –Marmar Mar, YouTube comment “Evacuating Lebanon”
Peace and war coexist in the compass and the clock.
A woman in headscarf dashes for flat bread
in the peace between bullets;
a continent goes about its business a world away.
European evacuees cram the queues
by Lebanon’s coastal palms (so gay!)
while smothered thunder pounds Hamoudi’s home
in Beirut’s south, again.
He cups his clamshell: Burj al Barajne’s still OK.
From the highway, Lebanon ascends
to mountain retreats and cedar origins, flanked
with terracotta roofs that lift their orange tiles
from silver rows of olive to the sun.
Below, video billboards tout Gauloises to spellbound cars,
light standards sift the breezes, and
newly-stacked balconies wait, virginal,
for Israeli jets spewing contrails like prurient birds.
Yesterday, hurrying back to camp, ka-boom!
a shock wave slammed us like
an angry hand, massive, lascivious,
and down the street the block collapsed:
It was see, and don’t see, in dust, deafness,
and crumbling rubble.
We were too numb for terror,
but a kernel of anger opened deep in my brain,
not so much for Jewish Jets
as U.S. bombs.
Ojala that America see
what I see, Insh’allah.
Today, we’ve wrapped our heads
in T-shirt keffiyehs, sweatsoaked.
Water bottles squeak. The sea,
a stepstone to Cyprus, is stained
with jagged meanders, gray, sudsy lined.
We endure the long wait from hazy dawn
to sultry nightfall at the gate to the marina.
At midnight, someone is shouting orders.
So is someone else.
Chinooks overhead: spotlights set circles of sea afire,
white like phosphorus. U. S. Marines in desert cammies sort
the delivered and the denied.
Hamoudi and me: no, but they frisk us
and record forever the lies our passports tell
before they send us back
behind the gate. The latch
laughs as it falls with a clank.
Americans, Canadians, Australians, French and the rest
of Europe leave before it gets worse.
Turkish wait, and we with them.
Fear is getting easy.
Days later, time and downed bridges have erased
the traffic, the lights, the video for Gauloises, and
most of what’s left of the peace.
A hungry siege sets in,
and more are dead,
but a damp dawn finds a Turkish ship, or boat, grating the shoals.
A launch opens on the stubbly beach
and we queue by concrete tetrapods stacked like colossal jacks.
Turkish soldiers finger random passports,
spying forgeries and forbidden stamps.
Profiling is lax with a little baksheesh, and we pass.
The launch drops from our shoe soles and slaps
the Mediterranean as we scale steep ramps and board.
On a giant banner, red as arterial blood,
an Ottoman star and crescent warns,
Turkos: Don’t shoot.
Derbekeh strikes an Arabic beat: we dance,
arms on shoulders, the Lebanese Debkeh,
kicking at our fatigue below the quarterdeck.
Finally, a sign in Cyprus taunts:
Welcome to Limassol Port
Crossroad to Peace and Safety.
Hamoudi trades his Beqa’a hash for the boatride to Istanbul.
Four days sleeping sorely on wooden decks, sick two,
we finally wake to a thousand cargo ships
in files and ranks on the marbled sea,
dwarfing us like peddlers carting flat bread
among Alcázars of global trade.
Lost and Lost
So where are you off to, Jacobo?
To Norway? Nope, you’ve missed that train
your comrade’s on, and you’re lost, Turko-
not-home-in-Turkey. Here’s the game:
Even the most civilized harbor
a genetic hazard, a marker
that may release a rage or lust,
where frailty erases trust:
Some will crack skulls with rapture total,
or seek to rip innocent slit
traipsing Thailand. You must admit
that this is more than anecdotal,
this joy of hunt and hunter’s bed
transformed to dread rapine, instead.
In a swarm of new jibberish,
you’re watched, Jacobo, as you look
and turn like a squirming dervish
while someone reads you like a book.
Porting giant samovars, sellers
of tea signal, clinking cups. Beggars
hinder and clutch, while flaunting sores.
Commodified by all these wars,
you’re on sale and Yanks are buying
terrorists. That fake passport won’t
avail. Here they come, but you don’t
see them. Clunk! Too late for trying.
Bagram bound, you’re bagged and trucked.
Jacobo, my dear boy, you’re fucked.
PHILLIP BANNOWSKY is a retired autoworker, international educator, human rights activist, and 2017 Delaware Division of the Arts Established Artist Fellow in poetry. His published works include The Milk of Human Kindness (poetry), Autoplant: a Poetic Monologue, and The Mother Earth Inn (novel). Additionally, he is a contributing editor at Dreamstreets Magazine and Broadkill Review, and curates Broken Turtle Booklist, a catalogue of Delaware writers. Recent poems have appeared in Dreamstreets Magazine, Broadkill Review, Currents, and The Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies News. He currently teaches The Poetry of Empowerment at the University of Delaware.