Death has nothing to do with going away
This rainy Honolulu morning after a storm
flooded our stream nearby and rain
hammered the trees into the mud,
the wind taking it all, or so it seems,
I think of you, my friend, what you said
of night birds and turbulence, finally,
of home: I want to run across the Green LineThe Green line refers to the geographical dividing line between east and west Beirut during the fifteen civil war.
until only the air they breathe divides them.
And then of Gilbert, how you loved
those floating islands of poems,
the current that flows through them
and the solitude there. Even the women,
the one in Perugia, the hills, the olive trees, all that.
And at dinner last night, a rich cabernet
with Mark and Laura, too briefly here
from our city of dreams where we walked
the English Gardens together
and later shared a simple meal—
salmon with tarragon and fresh greens.
How we talked poetry until the morning hours,
the ephemeral always slipping away from us.
How after the Abbeye de Tournus
in late summer, we read on the carved stone:
Saint Valerian was beheaded here for the faith.
Where inside, the pipe organ struck minor chords
powerfully enough to wrestle the heart,
and where on a huge painted canvas
we saw the image of a floating angel
comforting a boy, bereaved and blood-stained,
a red blanket thrown about his shoulders.
How after these long years,
Paris is still with me, how we walked
the streets together, the Hotel de Alma,
hole in the wall, airless room
the size of a closet in the suffocating August heat—
and the bridge we crossed daily,
that golden flame twisting skyward
where the young die too soon.
This between whatever wildness
and certitude we can manage.
How the great fires come back to me
in dreams, the best we leave behind—
and our longing for home, the weight of it.
Always Beirut, our beautiful city
at the edge of the Mediterranean,
city of rage, revenge and frenetic joy.
Helwe, helwe ktirHelwe, helwe ktir in Arabic means beautiful, very beautiful, we say even as it breaks us—
sooner or later the way white water suddenly
crashes over the corniche with a winter storm,
changing everything, changing nothing.
But still there is that night in the hills of Ramatuelle,
far from our city of grief,
where we shared a plate of ripe figs,
a glass of rose’ overlooking the vineyard below,
the wind trembling the olive trees around us.
Just that now because I cannot say it all,
and this love—which holds fast between
bafflement and grace where everything is.
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.