Grief, a Revolving Landscape

Dreaming in Arabic, flying red clouds
hang over the high Chouf village.
A young boy dresses early by lamp light,

does his morning chores in the cold sun.
Leaning heavily into the cedar wind,
he lugs firewood into the kitchen

to keep the heat going. In this dream
his parents live, his sisters
have long dark hair they sweep up

into heavy braids. Julia, the young one,
wears olive wood beads and carries
buckets of rainwater to the garden

while their mother steams milk with
cardamom and sugar for them.
In this dream they live to grow up,

marry, even have children of their own.
In this dream, the boy is not yet a grief-                                                             stricken survivor of war. Village gunfire

has not done its work, the blades of
his neighbors’ knives have not
slashed the throats of their goats

in the fields or those still sleeping
in their beds. He does not hear
their stiffening cries.

The house is not yet stone vacant
and the front gates are not yet chained up                                                                    and rusting in the rain.


What does this have to do with us,
with me— as I climb that mountain,
in the March snow far into the future,

see those terraced gardens that will bloom
half a world away under the shining red clouds?
Our questions are locked up in those walls,

in that village, but not so amorphous
grief. It keeps moving—
like pollutants carried by ocean currents that

fill estuaries and seep into groundwater.
Our bodies mark it in a hundred ways—
the sirocco storm of it, the empty boat of it.

There is the beaten-down slouch of the shoulders,                                                       the wheels of our own night terrors
like blue smoke. Under the microscope

the landscape of our weeping,
our dried human tears, mostly crystallized
salt in extreme detail,

they tell us, a landscape different from all other tears,                                                different from ones shed in joy or fear;
our emotional terrain cataloged—

more than that: the sum of our collective                                                                       human experience, they say,
and dried there too, enkephalins,

the body’s narcotic, a natural
pain killer, a moment of sweet rescue.
If only we could live on it—

or rest at will— the way
a cat blinks away the world when
it dozes on a windowsill in the sun.


Years after the boy’s exile, another life of                                                                       absolute silence
spent in that holy city of grief where

you know you will lose everything,
I say, finally, I lived there with you, father,
saw the daily labor of your mourning,

carried it with me into the future
and back to the huge Beirut air—
It rose up from me like a cloud of fog

and settled heavy again when I found                                                                              your vacant village home,
climbed the rusted gate to the terraced

gardens you tended, and where,
suddenly, I saw an almond tree sure to                                                                          blossom again into darkness

and where the red poppies, in the wind                                                                          you loved, already budding,
had broken through a drift of blinding snow.

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 in Arab 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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