Remember the name your parents gave you
has plenty of shade. Rest in it.
Zeina Hashem Beck
In the cold wind we walk the ruins of Byblos,
the harbor below us, the razor edge of
a rough sea in the distance whips up dark clouds
overhead. There is the Temple of the Obelisk,
and nearby, the holy church of St. John the Baptist.
We rush to catch up with the woman wearing jeans and
a sweater, hair wild in the drizzle. The guide
of this place, we see her just as she sweeps the ancient
stone wall with her finger tips, hand to her heart--
just as she says the Canaanites, called Phoenicians
by the Greeks, buried their children in earthen jars
here, the men and women in sand graves. Says again
our ancestors were Canaanite. Though an American,
my people a hundred years removed from this land,
I should have known that. We Lebanese, she says,
share 93% of our DNA with those who lived here
4000 years ago: the Moabites, Israelites and
Phoenicians. Genome sequencing proves
an unbroken bloodline. So it seems certain that
my ancestors worshipped the Canaanite god
Baal, an iron statue of a man, head & horns of a bull—
his hands raised up, holding a lightning bolt,
fearsome god of fire, wind and fertility.
But how did those mothers, surely loving their
newborns, offer them up to that ritual fire,
to the searing lap of that god and expect a blessing?
So much ash and carnage under our feet
everywhere. All at once the lashing rain
has us running into an alcove, a split rock—
open palm of supplication and the loud sound of
rain pouring down, the violent shudder of thunder—
the song of all your wanting, not unlike Blake’s
O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How the news crushes us daily.
Who can make sense of it—children barrel-bombed
in the hospitals of Aleppo, in Gaza, Sanaa and Baghdad,
a school bus blown up in the streets of Beirut,
twisted steel and a child’s broken toy—
all offered up to the gods of darkness. Still,
we carry the home we need with us
like a floating red scarf in the night wind,
remember our names, remember to rest in that shade.
My mother used to say, our name in Arabic,
Njaim, means star. Burning hydrogen into helium
for light, a name that calls up the vast night sky,
a sky that has no borders to suffer,
that receives the breath of all the dying alike
into that spinning wind of living energy.