Arab American

for Joseph Delore


We are a mystery to our children—

we befuddle them with our excitability,

how we live waiting


for the other shoe to drop

even when skies are clear,

our summer days are calm


and our vines have tender shoots

curling around the garden lattice.

They humor us, thinking we don’t notice


the glazed indulgence

in their beautiful eyes as

we tell our stories—the euphoric nights


the grown men in our families

downed shots of scotch,

blessed themselves then danced the dabke,


hips as if disjointed, twirling

their arms in the air like royalty

then pulling our mothers off their kitchen chairs


with a rush of tender kisses,

they twirled them heartbeat close

until Joseph stopped suddenly—


held his oud on his knee and began strumming

a melody so plaintive, it transported us

like the night wind circling the earth—


Joseph closing his eyes, head swaying

back and forth in that other-worldy way

so we might inhale again the salt,


scent of home, mollusks washing up

along the shore with the evening tide,

the sun falling into the rhythm of the Mediterranean.


Ahh— okay, wake up, we say to ourselves

when in the middle of it

our children pick up their smart phones


texting, tweeting—

irrelevance splashed over their faces

like cold water over ours.


We tell ourselves the truth of it:

we left our mountain villages,

our olive groves,


the old city and its bluest seaport,

the mother ship in the harbor

loaded down with small treasures,


a few hand-painted floor tiles,

mother of pearl wedding chest—

We fled Beirut, its violated borders,


our flag of cedar and blood

flying in the distant air.

And they—now on the threshold of


something we cannot imagine,

remind us daily with their

impatient energy, their fast-forward life


that our sweetest dreams

must be worth it all—

or at least, some days it seems so.

Adele NeJame

Adele NeJame has lived in Hawaii since 1969. Her parents were both born in Beirut. She visited Lebanon for the first time in 2009 which she says was a longed-for homecoming. She has published four books of poems, including Field Work(Petronium Press 1996), Poems, Land & Spirit(Sharjah Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates & Bidoun Press, 2009),and The South Wind, (Manoa Books & El Leon Literary Arts, 2011). Her work has appeared in many international journals including American Nature Writing, Ploughshares, Nimrod, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Kanto and Hawaii Pacific Review as well as inArab American anthologies, including  Inclined to Speak. Her poems were recently exhibited as broadsides at the Sharjah, United Arab Emirates International Biennial. She has taught poetry and literature at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (as Poet-in-Residence); she currently teaches at Hawaii Pacific University. Her literary honors include a Pablo Neruda prize for poetry Academy of American Poets’ prizes, the Elliot Cades Award for Literature and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry.

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