BEIRUT LITERARY AND ART JOURNAL ISSUE 2 - MEMORY AND MAGIC
Staff Editor Rima Rantisi Faculty Design Editor Ahmad Gharbieh Managing Editor Emma Moughabghab Art Editors & Design Aya Krisht Anastasia Matar Nonfiction Editor Joanna Abillama Poetry Editors Rawan Nasser Emma Moughabghab Fiction Editor Thurayya Zreik Contributing Editor Boushra Batlouni Media Manager Yasmine Saab Marketing and Events Bana Bissat Administrative Assistant Dima Nasser Distribution Manager Najla Jarkas
Founding Staff Crystal Hoffman Rima Rantisi Sahar Khreibani Hisham Faraj Joanna Abillama Bouchra Batlouni Hiba Krisht Ghiwa Sayegh Sara Fawaz Aya Krisht Louis Ghanem
For submission information, please see our Web site at rustedradishes.com. Our reading period for 2014 is January 1st to March 15. For inquiries, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. All rights revert to authors upon publication. Our Mailing Address: American University of Beirut, Department Of English, Rusted Radishes P.O. Box 11-0236, Riad El-Solh, Beirut 1107 2020, Lebanon Cover Art: “Paris: Day 58” by Omar Khouri. Please see description and biography in Contributors. Printed in Lebanon: Dar el Khotob s.a.l., 53 Dots Bchamoun - Industrial Zone +961 5 813753 Email: email@example.com
Acknowledgements Our deep gratitude goes out to the Provost’s office and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at AUB, whose generous financial contributions have buoyed Rusted Radishes for another year. And as always, to the Department of English and Department of Architecture and Design for your moral support and production of fine writers and designers. Finally, to all those who fielded questions and provided pro bono assistance, thank you for helping us round out the details.
Memory and Magic How are magic and memory related? Do our imaginations manipulate our experiences to create magic or new realities? Does the strain of memory often give way to magical thinking? Is it the flux of connections rapidly firing between the trillions of synapses in the human brain that evoke illusions of reality and bursts of color in our memories? Can we use these two words to describe Beirut — this town in which most of us feel two-headed? At the time of this writing, we are wrapping up this second issue of Rusted Radishes. And as we ping between edits, memory, and magic, we begin thinking of the links, threading themselves into the corners of such a triangle. In editing another’s writing, we tap into our empathy, becoming the receiver and the giver, and sometimes the process is tinged by mood. It is messy, like a memory of childhood, wrought with imagination and impression. Yet, there is this felt connection when finding the right moments in a text where things can change, a moment in which you have tapped into the piece and the writer. In reading and re-reading the texts within and seeing and re-seeing the artwork, questions and assorted insights into memory and its workings crystallized: Why and how do we remember the dead through ritual? Does the recollection of the passing of time occur in the layering of images? How do the intricate webs of our memories become whole realities? How do the memories of our mothers, fathers, friends, and loved ones play into our beliefs today? Can we recreate an environment that allows thoughts from a past life to travel to the present to save us? How can we see ourselves as a memory while we live it? In what big and subtle ways do our childhoods follow us throughout our days? We tend to think of magic as that which clicks, which comes about when we most need it either by serendipity or, seemingly, by virtue of wishing it. That which seems to come together sublimely — sort of like this issue of RR — like the beautiful sinking feeling in your gut or a piece of music that moves you. Some link this magic with the supernatural, nothing that has to do with God or the All-Powerful, but an alternate source of connection, faith, creation, or transformation. Why did these themes come together? This year at RR, we decided that we would have a theme and it would arise from the submissions we chose, first for their authenticity, craft, and the emotion they twisted out of us. What we found within was memory — and magic. And that they seem, within these pages, to be inextricable. In Crystal Hoffman’s essay “Trail Magic,” we learn about how “giving in a state of spontaneity” is the root of creation as she cuts her hair in a ritual of remembrance of a young woman named Ariel. In “Al Naba’a,” Hussein Nassereddine depicts a series of interventions on one photo, taken in the 1950’s, resulting in a surreal impression of how a community passes its time. In the poetry of Venus Khoury-Ghata, translated by poet Marilyn Hacker, memories of one’s mother harken to seeds planted long ago, evoking our inexorable connection to nature through a dense glut of imagery. In Diana Itawi’s artwork, we see how our experiences draw lines in our own lives. In the poem, “In August…”, Emily Bludworth Barrios uncannily shows how we can be within a memory as we live it. “If Palestine were a Treasured Painting,” by Jim Pascual Agustin and “Building Our Mothers,” by Janan Scott, speak of transfor-
mation — of Palestine as a painting and a mother as a garden, respectively. Fouad Mezher summons the conductor of death in “Fanning the Flames,” a remembrance of the 2012 Achrafieh bombing. In “Why I Am Who I Am,” Rewa El-Jarrah takes part in a process of recalling images, dialogue, and memory, ever so briefly, from the subconscious and letting it do its mysterious work. In “Forgetting French, Remembering Frank,” Doyle Avant traverses the terrain as to how one can invoke the spirit of someone else’s memory and become the object of desire, albeit a false stand-in, for a short, sweet time. In “Black Ice,” by Norbert Hirschhorn and Lee Gould, and “My First Watch,” by Rami Zurayk, the memory of desire is pungent in danger and eroticism while the artwork, “Intoxicating Exposure,” by Sandy Abdallah depicts the shameless beauty of the body. Lina Mounzer teaches us how to make macaroni during the war in “Warghetti,” recreating the days things were so routinely dire in order to remember that old faith that sprung from the knowledge that she could create everything in her own mind. Dalia Hosn’s “The First Apple,” gives us haunting images of how a young girl’s memory of her mother’s murder can forever more take away the pleasure of the ritual of picking the first apple of the harvest — which “always tasted the best” — with her grandfather. Saba Sadr’s “Oates Series,” is a vivid series of oil paintings that questions the past only after considering the future: “Where are you going?” Ghada Seifeddine’s nonfiction, “Your Moral Compass,” follows a past relationship, which leads her to a new one, with her faith. In Eyad Houssami’s play “Mama Butterfly,” a woman who is left alone at the end of her days lives only in her memory — and one that is so distorted by war and the stripping of her husband, children, and her many, many lives lived and transplanted and destroyed and rebuilt, that her false memories are truly reality. Finally, in our talk with Patricia Sarrafian Ward, we learn about how her newest venture, book arts, reveal her ongoing themes of childhood in wartime and the state of looking out into a world that can destroy you, if not for a thin shield. It is a pleasure to introduce these magical and memorable pieces and more. Rima Rantisi & Boushra Batlouni
16. Born Before the First Egg Venus Khoury-Ghata Trans. Marilyn Hacker
17. The mother’s red hair... Venus Khoury-Ghata Trans. Marilyn Hacker
18. Reading wastes words... Venus Khoury-Ghata Trans. Marilyn Hacker
21. in AUGUSt... Emily Bludworth de Barrios
22. If Palestine Were a TreasureD PAINTING Jim Pascual Agustin
23. building our mothers Janan Scott
25. In Heliopolis
28. He Was There Too Boushra Batlouni
37. El Manwar
Reef H. Al-Amine
9. Trail Magic Crystal Hoffman
75. Mama Butterfly Eyad Houssami
91. PATRICIA SARrafian Ward Rima Rantisi
13. Al Naba’a
42. Forgetting French, Remembering Frank
34. why i am who i am Rewa El-Jarrah 51. Warghetti: A Recipe Lina Mounzer
54. The First Apple
61. Your Moral Compass
24. Fanning the flames
Doyle Avant Dalia Hosn
69. My First Watch Rami Zurayk
19. dans ma rue Diana Itawi Diana Itawi
30. TREE OF REBIRTH Alice Kezhaya
36. ANIMAL ATTACK Mike Kobi
40. Night Friends Jonathan Malek
46. Angry A
50. Maca Sutra
56. Oates Series Saba Sadr
29. Under Oak Tree; on a Plane
68. IntoxiCating Exposure
31. In the beginning
74. Concrete Butterflies
32. It does not count Crystal Hoffman
47. Conversations with Dying Men J. Rechdan
49. Fishbowl J. Rechdan
59. Hit and run Tara Mahfoud
60. February Yanita Georgieva
67. BLACK ICE
Norbert Hirschhorn & Lee Gould
Trail Magic Crystal Hoffman
I walked into the only coffee shop open in Pittsburgh’s no-longer-quite-rundown East End and B-man, my trail angel, was seated in a corner booth sipping the poorly roasted, watered-down coffee that the place was known for. He looked like he wouldn’t rather be drinking anything else in the universe. He handed me a tent, sleeping pad, hiking chair, and a string of LED Lights that he picked up with his employee discount. “It’s called trail magic.” He looked fifty in some ways and nineteen in others. A skinny ex-hockey player with a full dark beard, youthful blue eyes and the same backwoods-ready attire that he’d been in since I met him two weeks ago at the sporting goods store where he works during the six months out of the year that he’s not hiking. “I don’t know what to say.” My throat tightened. I knew I had no reason not to start now. “You don’t have to thank me, you just have to pass it on once you get out there.” Out there. Visions of me walking solitarily along highways and through backwoods trails flashed before me. All prospective two thousand miles of it. He only accepted twenty dollars and wouldn’t let me pay for his crappy cup of coffee. I had no reason not to go now. I had everything that I needed and only two rules for not falling prey to danger posed by the lesser of mankind: No walking at night and no going into towns on the weekend. I would end up breaking these two simple rules more often than I would have thought possible, and doing just about everything that B-man would probably advise against. Five hundred miles later, and I would be in a barber’s chair in Bloomington, Indiana trying to right some of those wrongs. Until I reached the two hundred mile mark in Battavia, Ohio, trail magic was simply salvation: a warm bed in freezing temperatures, a cool shady stream when the sun was too intense to bear. It was the sign from god that I was on the right path: two blue herons flying across the four-lane, a truck driver stopping and handing me a couple slices of pizza, a smashed cassette of my favorite childhood movie along the road. But I discovered in that small town that trail magic is also the sign from god that your trail isn’t a long one, a cold reminder of mortality, especially when you’re walking it quickly. “Ariel had hair longer than yours,” Delsey tells me. I am still moist from rain, my bones freezing, as I sit down at the dinner table. The sun’s just set, and I have never been happier to be in what I consider a quasi-normal home. It’s been a while. Two stories, painted shutters, square yard, no shelves filled with skulls, no pack of dogs,
no room dedicated to housing old advertising cardboard cutouts. My hands shake because the winding backwoods road to this little riverside town, with ample blind curves, cliff side drops without guardrails, and a curb of about six inches, was not what one would call hiker-friendly. The family is what I would call close-to-perfect: spiritually-inclined, but not religious; artistic, but not pushy; and socially conscientious, but not obsessive. Delsey’s husband is a specialist on the Mound Builders, the mysterious, artistically and scientifically advanced indigenous civilization that spread all along the Mississippi River and as far east as Ohio. My walk took me through many of their sacred sites, so he was eager to talk. I had stayed with Delsey’s parents on the way to Cincinnati — one of the many random doors I knocked on for a place to pitch my tent. Her dad performed a cutting ritual on me at Serpent Mound. I brought with me bags of sage, cedar, and tobacco — sacred plants that help to carry prayers — to give him as an offering to the spirit that would be doing the work with him. He took a knife and waved it around my body, dispelling any negative energetic attachments. It was meant to keep me safe on the rest of my journey. There’s not a lot of difference between irony and synchronicity sometimes. Sometimes synchronicity hurts. “She just had it cut a month ago when she moved back home,” Delsey is eager to start a conversation. In native spiritual traditions, like the one their family follows, your hair holds your memories and instincts. You cut it when you mourn. Ariel explains that she dropped out of college — because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. At least she could admit it. Like most young artists, she was filled with turmoil. Unlike most artists, she lacked the desperate need to be noticed. She was utterly content to live at home and help raise her little brothers. “I can’t believe you’re really walking across the country. That’s ridiculous. Do you get scared?” Ariel says as she cleans the youngest’s face, scrunching up her own and making squirting sounds. I try to prepare something wise to say as I pick at my Romaine lettuce and Ranch dressing, “Well, I’m not walking the whole way, but yeah, I get scared when I’m trying to find a place to sleep at night, so scared I get sick to my stomach. But that’s almost the point.” She looks at me half laughing, “Personally, I’d just download a good horror flick, but I guess I get it.” She’s wearing a Jack Skellington shirt. The flowers at her funeral will be white, black, and red. I’ll put this together after the fact. “I’m trying to prove that I don’t have to be frightened, is the thing. Prove that we can have faith in ourselves, one another. It’s the work I wish more artists were up to the task of doing — putting themselves out there and letting the universe place material, place the work before them. It’s how artists become real creators, healers like your grandfather. How we can be in just the right place to paint, write, speak just the right thing to make someone’s life a little more beautiful, a little less lonely.” “Yeah, I’d like to do that some day.” “Can I see some of your work?”
Park in southern Indiana. I was hoping for a good night’s sleep, since I had lofty mileage goals the next day, but the people camping next to me were blaring bad pop music and drunkenly shouting over one another. So, I strapped on my headlamp and started reading Meditation in Action by Allen Ginsberg’s guru, Chogyum Trungpa. I opened to the section on generosity and gifting. He explains how the state of generosity is that of alignment with the will of the universe. Gifting in a state of spontaneity is the root of creation that soil and sunlight require for true creative actions. This is what I was trying to explain to Ariel. I began thinking of what the roots of destruction are then. What did I do wrong today? What lesson did I have yet to learn? Just as I began falling asleep three hours later, I reached my hand to my neck and pulled out a tick. Then two more. I feared each mole on my body. I couldn’t sleep. I found two more ticks on my coat. Rain poured down and the temperature dropped. I was stuck in my tent for hours with a dead phone, sobbing for a dozen different reasons. Apparently, it really doesn’t get easier; I would have to grow thicker skin. I’d already been stranded at night in town with no place to camp. Eight nights of below freezing weather. Knees that ached for three days straight. Four days of intermittent vomiting. Accidentally camping in a hydraulic fracturing gas drilling pad. Ariel. When I had walked the road to Serpent Mound, where Ariel’s grandfather lives, I was stopped by a red pick-up truck. “Hey there, you need a ride?” I answered in my usual fashion, “No, no, just on a cross-country walk.” “Well, you know this road is really dangerous,” he said, as he pulled his German Shepherd away from the window. I’d heard that one before. “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll try to be careful.” As he drove away, I sat in the tall chartreuse grass and watched the calves prance about the fields, holy in their innocence, in their slow learning of stillness. The pastures were covered in violets and buttercups.
I replay this interaction in my head, as I lay sleepless in a tent in Versailles State
Ariel was struck by a truck and killed in that exact spot one week later as I participated in my first ceremony with the Native American church. I did not think to pray for her, but I did anyhow. I didn’t think to pass the warning on to her, but some part of her heard it. They say that we write our entrances and exits in this life. For some reason, Ariel chose to leave the world giving her spirit over to my worst fears for this journey: not making it back home. She was leaving a birthday party, solitarily walking towards the sacred mound where her grandfather lives. She brought Twister, danced when no one else was dancing, orchestrated a game of Capture the Flag. Meanwhile, I was deep in the woods ritual, laying inside an etheric wheel of color, singing songs I don’t know, and chasing spirits along the edges of the woods. Now, I’m sitting in a barber’s chair in Bloomington while thirty people sit in a circle making prayer ties amongst those violets and buttercups on that roadside. I am coming to grips with the reality that there is no end-point on this circle. Anything can be a ritual: Brushing your teeth. Splashing your face with water from a freezing cold stream. Taking a piss in the woods. Setting up your tent alongside a stranger’s yard. Ceremony is simply a state of attention. Your mind follows your eyes, follows your hands, follows your body, follows your spirit. You actively interpret the codes of it. You develop intention. You see how there is no space around
Al Naba’a, Hussein Nassereddine Mixed Media Collage | A collection of collages under the title “Al Naba’a.” It is a series of interventions on a picture taken in Al Naba’a, Beirut, in the 50s. Each collage tells a different story about the area and how time passes by its residents.
ceremony, it consumes everything, collapses time inward. The air is filled with tiny living organisms, colliding entangled spinning particles, and they are all a part of your world, and they all will sustain you, if you recognize them as a possibility. And these will grow and become pieces of your own soul as you walk through the world seemingly alone. They will invite you in for a cup of coffee when you think you can’t stand the cold anymore. They will give you a place to sleep when your legs are aching. They will make you a sandwich for the road when you are not sure how you are going to get groceries for the next fifteen miles. They will hand you twenty dollars that you will discover you really needed two days later. They will give you a ride up the hill that you did not realize went on for the next half a mile. They will hold you when you cannot love yourself enough. They will forgive you when you say that you put those wounds there yourself. They will stand with you as you open and heal them. They’ll guide you when you cannot see for tears when you are walking through the pain. They’ll say, “I believe in you,” when you begin losing faith. They will tell you “I always believed in you,” and you will realize, that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have been possible if they didn’t. I gave her my hair because I loved it, because I wasn’t thinking about cutting it when I stepped into the salon. Because it’s what you do when you mourn. Because it’s the only ritual that could tie us together. And I know that she felt the tying. I asked her for her forgiveness. I thanked her. And that prayer travels through the roots of my hairs, as the prayers of the family at Serpent Mound travel through tree roots. Two weeks later, I’ve left my course to help build a house for a healer with her family on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. I try to ask her sister if she talked about me or my walk before she left to her grandfather’s house. I cannot get the words out. I excuse myself and cry by the outhouse. Later that night, someone looks me in the eye without even mentioning her and says, “You know she walks with you now.” And I know. I know that giving and receiving is the same action. I know that each soul I meet is a piece of my own. I’m building my own home right now. I know that life and death are false borders. I am Ariel, living, breathing, wandering. I know that each inhale is the only one I ever need to take. And I know that as long I can remember that, the whole world will be magical. And I also know that each time I forget, there will be a lesson there to remind me. And it will hurt just enough, to put me back on the path. To keep me walking.
Al Farhah / the celebration
Al Hareb / the War
Al Qamar / the Moon
Al Zakirah / the remembrance
Venus Khoury-Ghata translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker
Venus Khoury-Ghata translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker
Born before the first egg We were genuine children With soft bodies and speech borrowed from the first tree The day went by without seeing us Our neighbors grew wiser while we kept on looking for hoops and kites on the ground The mother took down her curtains Took down the moon Hung it as an amulet around our necks A bit of night in the inkwell And don’t let the changing seasons make the lamp vibrate She would plead at every scission of the light Children from behind the mountain wove a song in our ears We knew the refrain The window bars divided up the stanzas “Who killed the bear with just his little finger? Who lapped up the salt meant for the red horse? Who threatened the wolf with a wisp of straw?” We begged the echo to give the voices snatched up by the mountain back to us Begged long-legged time that paced along our windows To put its beneficent hand on our temples To make us older
The mother’s red hair stained our sheets And the maple tree she pursued with her attentions Sympathizing with the fall of leaves into our books Bandaging the wounded veins The mother hurled broken crockery and imprecations at autumn Let a single lash fall from our eyes And her curses would be realized We were otherwise Many in one Like pictures that last a long time And the rain when it becomes voluble The mother wanted us long-armed like St John’s streams Smooth to move easily into her sleep And if the chestnut trees kept on making war in the hearth’s cinders It wasn’t their crackling that would wake us
Dans Ma Rue Aquarelle and Black ink by Diana Itawi
Venus Khoury-Ghata translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker
Reading wastes words and makes concentration boil over like milk on the stove The mother would repeat And she sharpened the cypress like a pencil For lack of books we read her intentions Sure that she would leave us at the juncture of sleep as soon as it gave her some children that were hers alone Would leave us As soon as she had swept our fears under the table Gathered up the crumbs of her huge fatigue And our shoes lined up in order of size like good schoolchildren Would leave us without going away Sewn into her sheet Her children become pebbles in her womb
dans ma rue, Diana Itawi Aquarelle and Black Ink | Inspired by an old eponymous French song, this piece reflects the dark and frightening process of a young girl obliged to become a prostitute.
In August Late at Night I Feed My NineYear-Old Nephew During a Brief Stop on His Long Journey by Car and Plane from Mexico to Bolivia; He Arrives After Midnight Like a Fugitive, or Like Mary and Joseph, in Mythical Flight Emily Bludworth de Barrios
I am making you a strong sandwich. I use good bread and cut it like this. Do you prefer salami, or chicken? Mayonnaise and mustard are very rich. I use this fermented cabbage. I don’t use too much cheese. Would you like milk? Would you like to eat here, or in the living room? I have a napkin for you. Be careful. This is a very strong sandwich. (Years from now. We’re already inside the memory. Deep night, fluorescent light, foreign sheets, cold glass, placemat, horseradish at your nose. The forces of the world were big.)
Shredded, Diana Itawi Aquarelle and Black Ink | “Shredded” is inspired by personal experience where I learned the people that I used to consider heroes are no more than regular humans also capable of making terrible mistakes.
If Palestine Were a TreasureD PAINTING
building our mothers
Jim Pascual Agustin
My skin, the surface of a sea drawn on canvas rough as wood. I am ready and dry in an abandoned gallery. In the distance, children on the shores of a bay shiny with aureoles of petrol. They laugh and chase each other around crumbling castles. Further out, beyond those echoes, underwater volcanoes erupt from the core of the earth. So deep in the dark, they are not heard, not feared.
I am traveling the bone home with worry idling in my ear. The worry asks what is the shape of your going and what will you leave behind? Hands say leave me your hands Seahorse-brain says I would like the bullet in your calf Skin says give to me the oil-shine of your skin. When wither & wrinkle come we daughters will throw our girlhood high, knit our losses to our lips, pick & gather each dust & stray hair, small sweepings of you to stow inside the earth. We will grow quite a whole garden with your glass buttons & silver spoons, and when spring comes the garden will swoon with sandalwood & clove, there will be a lemon tree and your hundred bracelets will dangle from its yellow carrying branches just as they dangled from your left wrist, they will be our chimes glittering in the sunâ€™s sway beside
your red & black shawl from Aleppo which will burst into a great hibiscus
You are ready to douse the walls with a faceless anger, a strange urge to turn to ash what cannot run away from your shadow.
and in the throat of the hibiscus shawl we will find the tongue of your once beautiful shoes, your collection of mortars & pestles, your orphaned socks & all the many pairs of lost glasses. Oh forever one we will build you into a tree and call you our arbor mother, sit with you in heat, sleep in the sturdiness of your low boughs by night, tend to your dying bark.
When winter steals away we will trim & prune your limbs so that you only grow and when wither & wrinkle come for us we will send our girlhood down deep bury ourselves low in your shade, root with marrow.
In Heliopolis Brooke Grasberger
Entering the roofless temple, you searched for ghosts in the stone, expecting echoes of Latin chants to hover in the curl of your cochlea and faceless Bacchus to smile again. But the air spoke to you only of dust, and the columns that cracked, collapsed earthwards long before your birth were ribboned with carvings (rope for life, chain for slavery) unfinished when they stood in their full strength. When the azzan rose above the valley you, stranger here to place and time, heard in it an echo of your distance, multiplied in the patterns and faults around you: the oldest god drawing higher, abandoning you in his ruins to piece together some meaning in the sounds of lizards who, with the movement of their claws, possessed the stone entirely.
Fanning the flames, Fouad Mezher Ink-Wash | This drawing was an immediate reaction to the aftermath of the Achrafieh bombing that took place in October 2012. I was angry about the state of things and felt the rioting that took place was exploitative and disrespectful to the fact that several people had just lost their lives.
Seclusion Brooke Grasberger
No, I leaned back on the couch, I didn’t open the window. I’d rather watch tv even if it’s making me dumber. Shutting out the flowering sumac also covers the plastic bottles and cigarette boxes and burned stubs and the parking lot, too ironic to be believed, the white arch and its rusting red letters: paradise, in English and Arabic. Paradise. On tv the dancing girls, holding hands, are always on. I heard they’re Syrian, I heard they’re wealthy. In boneless music and limp movement I try to see their faces, I can’t imagine they’re anything but unhappy, turning in circles, in dresses, on tv like something I caught sight of in an old can, washed up on the shore when I still went outside.
The ocean was warm and weak around my ankles, but between that shore and this are a fleet of wrecks, rotted spars, torn hulls, the sea and the wind unbuilding each. The closed windows erase the sea, and the wind can’t reach me through the opaque glass. Still the girls are always dancing, wavelets, cast out from the deeper seas where the ships break and sink.
He Was There Too
Under Oak Tree; on a Plane
As an image, the remaining senses corroded around the video tape replaying without the ‘eject’ button. A loop, tethered with a strained wire, to sand motes of dunes condensed — a breeze rippling over the crusts shuffling clumps of grain across another dune — foam pretending to be snow on a desert grain, a snapshot made to repeat for continuity. It is impossible for a boat to crash so quietly thunderous — I am certain it was floating just above the tips, any break of the sea dunes is a white brush stroke too heavy on blue canvas. Inside this grainy bubble, a crystal ball to the past — not the gypsy woman made of shawls peering over, but swirling in the casing. It will change everything if examined, break time cruelly slapping the memory with the back of a hand for no trespasses; stretched dexterous light over paper, with smudging coal. The reflection less hideously bright: the smell, and the gentleness constrained, muted and tender. A good time.
Pristine foaming masks, cold-calling from the mouth of the hyena on the outskirts of the small olive grove many liked to pretend was an important legacy that helped claim who they are and forgot what they had had. At school we read about the now foreigner Lebanese, who took thyme with him to France — 7ofnato el zaatar.1 Or torab.2 Or kishk.3 Because he missed his mother. And I thought then, what a pansy, but now think, what a pansy. He couldn’t cut it without the ka’ak umbilical cord filled with thyme. A non-veiled girl offering a freshly plucked daisy to a hazel-eyed boy. A flash of impotence in the near future. “and doesn’t it make you sad that I lost my hymen?” She fell off the bicycle after she finished a sweaty passionate night under the grape grove; — Similar to the olive one but much more potent because at least with grapes you can make wine. You can’t drink a martini, without fear of breaking your hymen. 1. A handful of thyme 2. Soil 3. Lebanese cuisine: a dish of fermented bulgar with milk and plain yogurt
In the beginning Crystal Hoffman
The world broke apart to get to know itself, and I have recently found there are no two numbers that meet to make inside sea shell smooth, no two letters placed together sound a slow drip of wax from candle edge. Tomorrow, we will regret a life spent in pursuit of symbols, the building of yellow callus or knotted backs will open to show no handful of liquefied tusk or horn can paint a black that is the ash of beast it was burnt from. Paint is only paint and ink but only stain even in prettiest proof geometry wrought or most eloquently set equation, sigils refuse to stand, shed skin, and suck marrow. Tomorrow we ceased exhaling the construction of boxes. I’ve too coughed up too many of my own-will bury me, my dog, my mother, four parakeets, and nineteen goldfish in them. In the beginning the world broke apart to get to know itself and I know nothing but this shard wanted glue, kill your king that cypher rules, touch nothing but that dreams. Here it is good tailor, sow it to the last cedar standing in Mount Lebanon. For it, I’ve sacrificed both thumbs, three ribs, and all my children’s tongues.
TREE OF REBIRTH, Alice Kezhaya Photography | Zawtar, Lebanon
It does not count Crystal Hoffman for Dylan Thomas
Always pray to a tree and wrap yourself in what makes pearl clean.
to pierced side. Yet you sit, let each prick collapse photon and burn. Yet still you cannot feed on sun, but grow bark
Your retinas do not make food of light, but I could be I just starving, and you could be you
and hard places you mix in your morning cereal, lose teeth and swallow them with milk, finger nails, corn flakes, and puffed rice.
but letter or shell meaning absence of one in some tribe’s script. Have you learned to feel it
You’ve been you for too damn long. It’s time to split. Rooted in your scoliosis, this round of back will disappear
coming out the holes in your palms, as you sit and breathe the colored joke behind eyelids and vibrate teeth
or become many, grow a leg beneath to nine then beside to 10. Breathe. Get closer. Lick it if you can. Do you taste the salt?
from skull instead of laugh. Drip of spit and cut tongue bleeds as the same briars grows from small toe
Why I Am Who I Am * Rewa El-Jarrah
1 Dirty feet on cold floors. Muddy shoes. Frosted lips. Short bitten nails. Red rosary. Purple Powerpuff Girls raincoat. Round blue glasses. Blonde Barbies. Brown pants. Short frizzy hair. Bitter thyroid medicine. Mickey Mouse ring. Rainbow slinky. Winnie the Pooh pillow. Hopscotch on the terrace. Catch in the parking lot. Bulky back brace. Twister champion. Beaded bracelets. The Little Mermaid calendar. Scraped knees. Chocolate-chip cookie dough. Ice cold lemonade. Homemade strawberry ice cream. Lisa Frank copybook. Cherry lip gloss. 101 Dalmatians sunglasses. Sunflower earrings. Ice-cold x-ray tables. Orange feathery purse. 2 “We don’t have such a thing. Not now. It’s too early for you.” “But I’m almost eighteen. I’m actually coming to you for once, letting you in.” “Yeah well, it’s just not something we do and you know that. Focus on your studies... you shouldn’t be thinking about this for the next two or three years.” “It’s dating for God’s sake.” “Forget it, you’re from two completely different worlds. How do you expect this to work?” “Worlds. You mean religions.” 3 As I walked down the streets of Beirut, my path was blocked by the huge green garbage truck. Two men grabbed the dumpsters and disposed the garbage into the truck; I could smell day old tuna and fresh diapers react with old moldy bread. It was the exact same smell that was buried into my nostrils seven years ago when I dropped my schoolbook near a public bathroom on the corniche. My family always said my back brace didn’t show. It did. It was so bulky everyone would always stare. But that corniche was the one place where I felt like I fit in. Everyone was so in over their head with problems, that no one even cared about the weirdly-structured * This essay was produced from Dinty W. Moore’s exercise called, “Just Add Water: An Experimental Mini-Essay in a Can.”
girl, no one even looked my way. I loved that corniche. I hated the girl who walked it. As I walked down the street thinking of my perfect blue getaway, I felt sick to my stomach. 4 His cheeks felt like a lawn of grass, smooth and inviting at first, until you hit the dry and dead parts. As I stroked them, my hands turned warm. Those cheeks were all I cared for. They smelled like the new “One Million” perfume. Whenever I pulled a cheek, my fingers would tickle and I would laugh endlessly. And if I ever kissed it, my lips would feel as if I had just eaten cotton candy; but sometimes, they’d burn after.
El Manwar Reef H. Al-Amine
El Manwar 1 As far as Khattar was concerned, the well-dressed fellow in his thirties who lived on the second floor was definitely a Freemason. The platinum watch, the suit, the phone calls; it was quite obvious. Khattar did not particularly enjoy being known to the tenants as the guy from the top floor who creeps around the staircase. Nevertheless, he watched from the balcony as Freemason Guy came out of his shiny car and into the entrance of the building. He placed his perfectly rolled joint on the balcony wall, and tumbled out of his apartment as quietly as he could. Once the door on the second floor had been slammed shut, he took a quick look around and proceeded to climb down the narrow and dirty skylight shaft, which ran vertically through the center of the building like a wormhole and opened onto the topmost floor. He had often wondered if the opening was in fact originally intended as space for an elevator. It was not long after he moved into the old Hamra building that he realized the peeping potential of the vacant elevator shaft: with the right amount of balls, and provided he or she were nimble enough, an average-sized adult could climb down through the top and into a small closed space in between the apartments on each of the three floors below. This afforded clear eavesdropping access to both the east and west apartments on each story. “Mann raaqaba l’naas maata hamman,”2 his dad would always say. He never quite agreed. Samir Rizka I am an ass. Khattar had never thought to invite himself into the privacy of Samir’s home. There was no reason to; after all, Samir was friendly. He had an honest face, and he would always save a place for Khattar to park his old Volvo right by the building. The old man ran a small business on the ground floor. It was a coal shop, hardly a business at all, and smaller than it appeared from the outside. Besides, the man lived alone on the first floor, which meant a long and tiring climb down the skylight. I am an ass, he thought to himself that cold Tuesday night as he peered down at the empty sidewalk below. That day, a fight had broken out in the street and men had thrown rocks and chairs at the windows of Samir’s shop. About an hour later,
1. The Skylight 2. “He who watches people dies of woe”
ANIMAL ATTACK, Mike Kobi Photography | Santa Monica, California 2012
a grey four-by-four parked nearby, and five members of the darak3 jumped out and burst into the building. Needless to say, Khattar was scared shitless. Somebody’s tipped them off about me. He ran into the bathroom and flushed his little block of hash down the toilet in a panic. By the time he had composed himself, he realized that the police had stopped on the first floor. He ran back out onto the balcony just in time to see Samir, his fuzzy white hair still messy from sleep, tossing himself out of the first floor veranda in a long white abaya.4 Khattar was about to scream out to him, to ask him what was going on, when a darake ran out through the building entrance with open arms and tackled Samir to the ground, cursing and calling out to his partners. Once the old man had been loaded into the back of the Range Rover, people began to gather slowly near the building to ask questions, and some just to stare. So the one guy I decide not to spy on is now in trouble with the darak. Khattar’s stomach was in knots. A few minutes later, another darak car showed up escorting a minivan. Three men walked out of the van, into the building, then back out within minutes. The oldest of them held a young girl in his arms; she must have been nine or ten years old. Shai5 He had only to go out onto the roof to see that Abou Saleem was not the most faithful husband in the world. The sixty-something-year-old man left his house almost every day at the same time, and Khattar followed his movements along the byroad of their building from his well-hidden balcony on the fourth floor until he could no longer see the suspicious old man. It was a few weeks ago that he realized he could find Abou Saleem again after a minute or two if he climbed a little higher. Naturally, Khattar had brought his binoculars along to the roof. He scanned the dirty street beyond the building carefully and finally spotted the elusive Abou Saleem. As it turned out, the old bastard was a big fan of a nearby bar that was known to serve its drinks with a side of loving. That day he decided he had had enough of Abou Saleem’s routine visits. He was more curious about Em Saleem now. As he slowly lowered himself down the shaft, Khattar could hear her talking with Lama, a tall, middle-aged lady who lived across the street. They mentioned the poor girl Rizka, who had been tied up in his bathroom for weeks, and as they argued over her nationality he felt a familiar pang of guilt and sighed as soundlessly as he could manage. I am an ass. He could hear the clink of small glass tea cups on small glass saucers. A moment later, the talking stopped, as did the sipping. He wondered if she knew that her husband craved the comfort of other women. It was not until he heard Tante Lama’s gentle sighs of contentment that he realized, Em Saleem craved that very same comfort too.
3. Police 4. Traditional robe 5. Tea
Kibreet6 The faint light from the cigarette waxed and waned. He was chain smoking. There was no way he would risk going back down to Burj Hammoud to purchase his narcotic of choice after what had happened last time. Fuck! He thought as he flicked the cigarette into the air. Flushed down the fucking toilet. He picked up the pack and extracted another cigarette. He brought the cigarette close to his mouth and scanned the floor of the balcony with his other hand. He found his lighter and clicked it twice. Nothing. After having turned the house over unsuccessfully looking for another source of heat, he remembered that the dikkene7 around the corner sometimes stayed open until strange hours of the night. Worth a shot, he thought. He had gotten so used to the skylight that using the stairs felt awkward. Khattar had almost reached the ground floor when he heard a crash. Metal on metal. Something large. Cars? He peered out and saw Freemason Guy, his shiny car in shambles behind him. Khattar ran out into the road to find him stumbling away from the wreckage. He was sweating through his blazer and almost fell onto his knees when Khattar leaned over to catch him. Freemason Guy is not alright. Before he could finish thinking it, the man began to shake uncontrollably and his weight became too much to bear. He fell to the sidewalk with a thud. Three men came running over from across the street, shocked at the sight of the accident. He signaled for them to help his neighbor, and as soon as they took him off his shoulders, ran to the crashed car hoping to find a clue as to what had happened to Freemason Guy. He noticed a matchbox on the floor near the passenger’s seat. As he bent down absentmindedly to pick it up, he could see a large plastic zip-lock bag sticking out from under the seat. He knew what he was looking at almost immediately. He rummaged through the abundance of small soft lumps within. After he had extracted what he needed from it, he pushed the bag back under the seat. One of the men had found an expensive-looking phone in the unconscious man’s jeans and was dialing for help. Khattar nodded at the distracted men pleasantly as he walked back into the building. He was no Freemason after all.
6. Matches 7. Grocer
NIGHT FRIENDS, Jonathan Malek Ink & Digital | These were done as a postcard series. Originally penciled then inked using a Uniball pen. They were later scanned and colored in Photoshop.
Forgetting French, Remembering Frank Doyle Avant
There’s something I have to tell you. I just can’t remember what it is. I just read those words on the men’s room wall and I know exactly how he feels. I’m sitting here in this waaay groovy East Village café — thinking: maybe I shouldn’t have drunk so much coffee. Eleven espressos. Do you have any idea what happens to your mind after eleven espressos? Trust me, things start moving up here. Me? I’m devouring every last word of the newspaper and coming up with comprehensive peace plans for intractable armed conflicts all over the world. I’m mentally replaying the pivotal moments of my last three relationships — and then re-replaying them the way they should have gone. I’m working out chronic problems I never knew I had and quickly coming to terms with the fact that I will never sleep again. Just then — unseen by me — a woman walks into the café and looks the place over. She’s French. If she’d just say something, you could tell. I haven’t seen her yet — but she’s about to change my life irreversibly. I don’t see her because I’m surrounded by Section A of the New York Times — which is to say — surrounded by the world. And so this French woman with a French accent takes in the entire room and immediately starts walking my way, reaches my table and says: “Pardon, tu es Frank, n’est-ce pas?” I let the world fall to the floor, and am lost forever, because she has soft hard grey eyes that seem to float miles away and she… is... beautiful. It so happens — I have a slight weakness for that. Truth is, if this woman wanted to, she could treat me like complete and utter shit and it would probably take me five or six months to even pick up on it. And she wants to know if I’m Frank. “Yes I am.” Now this is without a doubt the most outrageous lie I’ve ever told in my life. And it makes no difference whether she’s looking for Frank the guy or frank the adjective because I am neither one. But she just smiles and says, “Je suis Veronique.” And I say: “Who else could you possibly be? Ca va?” “Ca va bien, mais — vraiment I am a little nervous when I come here parce que... well the truth is I am not certain you will be here.” “Oh I’m definitely here. In fact — I’ve been here my whole life. But now that we’re both here — what do you say we get out of here and... take a little walk somewhere?”
She just stares at me for a fleeting eternity and finally says… “I was just thinking the same thing.” So far, this French woman and I — we agree about everything. So I signal our unbelievably hip East Village waiter for the bill. But he takes his time noticing me because he’s busy checking himself out in the mirror. And I guess in his shoes, I would be too — because this guy’s got not one but two nose rings: a big diamond stud in the left nostril — a red commie hammer and sickle in the right... which seems a bit counter-intuitive, but hey. All I know is that when I was in my twenties, downtown guys like this used to intimidate the shit out of me. Now that I can barely remember my twenties, my attitude is more like: Dude, you are so much cooler than I ever was or can ever hope to be. Now that we’ve settled that — could you please do me a favor and bring me my fucking check? Which — finally — he does. As I reach into my wallet, I cover up my driver’s license. Part of me is wondering who this Frank guy really is. Another part of me is saying: Don’t make yourself crazy worrying about things that are beyond your control. Moments later, Veronique and I are walking down the street — not saying anything and not needing to. She hasn’t asked me where I’m taking her — and that’s good — because I have no idea. It’s early evening, early summer. Suddenly, she looks at me, starts laughing, and says: “You know, you don’t look anything like I expected: I can’t tell if she expected a lot better or a whole lot worse. “Et moi? Am I as you expected?” I gaze at her face for three seconds that will stay with me for the rest of my days. Taking in every contour, every angle and every shade of color. The sublime arc of her lips. The faint shadow beneath her eyes. And the perfect curve of her cheek that catches the streetlight like it’s never been caught before in the history of cheekbones… and say… “Yes, you are exactly the way I imagined you.” And it’s true. A faint smile flickers across her face. I’ve made her happy — and that’s all I want. You see, my mother died today. Actually it was 21 days ago — but you know how time is… sometimes. Then Veronique’s smile fades away and she says: “There’s something I have to tell you. The letters that you wrote me... those letters saved my life.” I don’t know what to say to that, so I just shake my head. But she grabs my arm and looks right into me so that there’s no escaping and says: “Yes. You are the only reason that I’m still here.” And so we drift into the park, approach a couple of men who live there. They’ve set up a sort of makeshift tent built out of plastic, wood scraps and other urban debris. One guy’s black. One guy’s white. Ray and Bill — in that order. The white guy Bill is half in, half out of a tattered sleeping bag — leaning up against an iron fence, his empty eyes gazing a thousand yards out at absolutely nothing. Thirty feet away, the black guy Ray has pried open the metal box at the bottom of a streetlight. He’s reaching in with pliers and a screwdriver — reworking the wiring and
looking like he’s about to electrocute himself. I hope not. For some reason, I’m starting to take a liking to Ray. Ray then takes this big orange extension cord, plugs it into the light post — and runs the cord back over toward Bill, who’s still off in a world that you and I will never know. Then Ray stoops down and disappears into the tent. Things get thrown around inside. Veronique turns to me and says: “What is he looking for?” Matter-of-factly, like I’ve been in that tent before and can tell her whatever she wants to know. But before I can disillusion her, Ray emerges with a twenty-three inch Sony Trinitron color TV. Plugs it in, turns it on. It works. Good picture and everything. For some reason, I’m not the least bit surprised — because for the past half hour my life seems to be making perfect sense for the first time since I was about seven years old. So Veronique and I move in closer — watch TV with the fellahs. It’s the NBC Nightly News. Some guy I’ve never seen in my life is sitting in for the usual anchorman Brian Williams. Now I always think they ought to tell us where Brian is, but they never do. I mean if the guy’s just taking the day off, fine. But if you don’t tell people anything, they’re only going to imagine the worst. The first story is about a postal worker who’s just been arrested for seventeen murders in Newark, New Jersey. Turns out none of his co-workers ever suspected a thing — which, if you’ve ever spent any time in Newark post offices, doesn’t seem all that surprising. Authorities caught the guy in a Dodge Ram Pickup Truck heading south on the Garden State Parkway. State trooper pulled the suspect over because one of his brake lights wasn’t working, which was too bad for him as he happened to be hauling victim number seventeen in the back of the truck, beneath the proverbial orange tarp. “I tell you what,” says Bill, the empty-eyed white guy, far more lucidly than I ever would have dreamed, “Whenever I gotta haul around a dead body, I always make sure that car’s in really good shape. Turn signals working, inspection sticker’s up to date, got all my insurance paperwork right there in the glove box.” His buddy Ray nods and says: “Damn right. Time like that, man don’t wanna have no surprises.” Then Ray turns and stares straight at me and says, “What time you got?” I check my watch. “Six-fifty.” Ray then looks at Veronique, gives her the once over and then the once all around, and says: “Say there miss, you like basketball?” And she says, “J’adore le basket.” “Ah oui? Well, you just… attendez-la.” Ray then reaches into his jacket like he’s going for a gun, and pulls out a big black remote control. Zaps the thing over to channel four, where the Knicks and the Magic are warming up for game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Life could not possibly be better. Or could it? “Hey Ray — you guys get cable?”
“No,” he says — and right away I can see that I’ve touched on a sensitive subject. “Hasn’t come to this neighborhood yet.” Then I turn and look at Veronique who’s staring straight at me. Shaking her head slowly back and forth in happy disbelief — and speaking very very softly — so that I can just barely hear her, “Frank… Frank, Frank, Frank.” And I choose this one moment in the brief history of my life to lean forward and try to kiss her. And she actually lets me. And when the kiss has finally run its course, we gaze into each other as far as the eye can see, and I say… “There’s something I have to tell you.”
Conversations with Dying Men J. Rechdan
The scent of generic disinfectant gradually grows weaker but the coughing, the late night groans are difficult to bear — The floor is cold, the chair uncomfortable, The woman next door — her lungs have resigned themselves to their fate. Makhlouf is a fine restaurant, Nabil reminisces he enjoyed dining there before his lymph nodes betrayed him. At 4am, a call for more morphine A string of regrets at different stages of knowing Nagy’s denial my desperate bargaining Newfound religiosity, abounds. The steady stream of visitors, stymied by the time his toes turned blue; his body bloated, his breathing ragged, my thoughts dark
Angry A, Tamara Fakhoury Pen on Paper
As tears refused to fall from yellow, jaundiced eyes and all the while The sea view unchanging The world unmoved
Fishbowl J. Rechdan
Life unburdened in 3-second rounds Lightness courtesy of H2 Uh-O Muffled sounds she’s at the edge of the bed again shoulders slumped My lights Illuminate sallow features a soft hum Waste in, Life out And yet — the sobs, the sighs and a sharp intake of breath filter in Come, Sprinkle tasteless tidbits over me press your nose to the glass murky eyes framed by dark strands of seaweed Exhale Your sweet mist lingers And evaporates like yesterday’s sorrow
UNTITLED, Tamara Fakhoury Pen on Paper
Warghetti: A Recipe Lina Mounzer
What you'll need Two bottles of Sohat water1 1 Package macaroni2 1 Tin Al-Tawoos Al Zahabi tomato paste Zaa'tar 1/2 Cup (or more) olive oil To make Pull two bottles of Sohat water out of the cabinet under the sink and tug on the little white sealant tag with your teeth to open. Keep one of these in your mouth the whole time — it's a good oral marker of time, it keeps hunger at bay, and is a perfect standin for Huck Finn's ever-present blade of chewing-grass.3 Now pick a pot. Make sure this is not the pot used to sterilize the baby's bottles and pacifiers. Otherwise, you'll never hear the end of it. Empty the water into the pot and pour a very generous glug of olive oil into the water. Set the pot aside while you light the burner. Be very careful, using only the long-nozzled stove lighter and clicking it on just as you turn the knob. Place the pot of water on the burner and cover it. Now pull out the saucepan. Pour olive oil into the saucepan, to a depth that would make a nice wading pool for a person 10 cm tall. Make sure there are no floating bits of Teflon in the oil. (If there are, pull them out with your fingers after they're done with their “Singing in the Rain” routine and then wipe your fingers on the counter.) Place the pan on the burner and wait two minutes, or, in the absence of a working clock anywhere nearby, wait as long as it takes to have fully flattened the Sohat sealant tag with your teeth. Now add the can of tomato paste. At this point, the water should be boiling. Take all the macaroni out of the package and break the strands in half before you drop them into the pot. (A few well-placed prods of the fork at this point helps avoid them cooking up in gummy clumps.) Turn your attention back to the pan where the tomato paste is now sizzling and 1. You may use any other brand, or even tap water if you now live in a place where it doesn’t taste like rust and (what you assume to be) mammalian corpses. 2. What your mother and everybody else calls long spaghetti noodles. 3. Of course, a cigarette performs all these functions equally well, and, unlike the Sohat sealant tag, is not obsolete as of this writing.
Maca Sutra, Amanda Nowyhed Digital | The many positions of an all-nighter.
spitting red pinpricks of fire on everything within the vicinity, including the clean counter, your clean shirt, and, worst of all — right into the baby's pot. Hiss with frustration as you dump in a handful of zaa'tar and a generous toss of salt. Realize how this reminds you of an illustration in your Favorite Tales from Shakespeare and embrace it fully, shaking the pan around like you're casting a spell and expecting it to ruin someone’s life any minute now. (A cackle is optional, but highly recommended.) Turn off the burner, wipe down the counters, wipe down the pot and take your shirt off, rubbing it desperately with the fat, unwieldy square of olive oil soap under the running water, remembering only too late that grease stains should be treated first while dry. (Stand there shivering in your bra and remember suddenly an absurd punishment your mother once meted out for some similar transgression. Category: carelessness, mess and irresponsibility; possible resentment of the baby manifested in a lack of respect for his safety. When she took away and hid your Longman's Simplified English version of Rebecca right when you were at the point where the narrator descends the stairs wearing the costume the devious Mrs. Danvers had suggested and Maxim de Winter goes crazy, thinking his new wife was deliberately trying to extract information about the mysterious Rebecca’s mysterious death. Remember that afterwards you never finished Rebecca out of spite, never found out what really happened to Rebecca, going on instead to the Longman's Simplified English version of Lorna Doone. And while you have a clear memory of standing in Four Steps Down and ragefully picking it out, mostly for the shape of the muskets on the cover and how they seemed to capture the full curve of your resentment, you have no actual recollection of the book itself and certainly nothing like the crystalline image of the new Mrs. de Winter in a dress she had had especially replicated from a portrait to impress — or so she was led to believe — her restless, brooding husband, descending the stairs at Manderley during the costume ball and raising hope-brimming eyes to meet a roomful of shocked guests and an inexplicably furious Maxim, with Mrs. Danvers watching and smirking from the shadows. Resolve to finish that damned book once and for all and find out what happened at Manderley, though you know by now you'll probably have more sympathy for the impetuous Rebecca de Winter and not the simpering heroine trying to apologetically fill her shoes.) Turn your attention back to the macaroni, mushy now to just this side of baby food. Drain all but the last few dregs of water from the macaroni and mix it with the sauce. Everything should be a bright, oily orange, the sort that will leave a thin film of grease around your lips that will blot a warning on any napkin brought to your mouth for days and days afterwards. Before you dig in, don't forget to set the right mood! This is a dish best enjoyed by candlelight. To recreate the full, authentic experience, switch off the circuit breaker so that not a single ray of electric light might relieve the darkness. The ambient roar of generators may be replicated by the relentless, pounding music that emanates from the neighbor's house (remember to tell them to turn up the bass so it rattles your diaphragm and unhinges your thoughts) while the sense of sinking, Sunday-night despair requires nothing but a hangover. Just make sure to plan ahead.
Once the conditions are perfect, you may raise a forkful to your mouth. As you do, think suddenly about how, in a way, it was much better back when you had both reason and resource enough to live inside your own head. When you learned to set aside the hope that the world outside might offer any comfort except in those moments of permissiveness afforded by chaos. And how pressing that hope down, burying it into the molten reaches of your deepest self, created a new hope, a hope compressed so hard and sharp and small it emerged sparkling like faith. The faith that you could, with nothing but your own mind, create everything you might need that the world was unable to give. Remember, with a jolt, how that faith was once pure and vital, not the counterfeit of habit. Feel your stomach growl. Now taste the heavy, oily past and be transported.
The First Apple Dalia Hosn
I was barely ten and we were still living in my father’s village. It was a little mess of a place by the border between Lebanon and Syria, one of those places where the men still kept their guns loaded and a peace treaty was just a piece of paper. The houses were all crowded together among the sheer mountain rocks. Brick roofs and archways and balconies, one on top of the other, like kids fighting over the best view of the Bekaa Valley underneath. Each hand-built cement wall was lined up next to another. There were trees everywhere, little orchards mimicking those down in the Valley, shrubs and strange herbs poking out of uneven pavement, roots cracking the tiles of our living room. I still remember sitting on my grandfather’s red tractor listening to him hum hoarsely to a Fairuz song. He was always smiling at me. Every year he’d carry me on his shoulders so I could reach up and wrap my small fingers around the first apple of the season. It always tasted the best. My grandmother wasn’t like that. She never got over the fact that her only son — her only male heir, the center of her world — had dared marry a Christian girl, and from the city too. That he’d met her while fighting during the war only made it worse. “You were supposed to kill them, not marry them!” she’d shriek from time to time. Though I didn’t know what it meant, even a child could guess that calling your daughter-in-law an ungrateful traitorous whore at least twice a day wasn’t a sign of familial bonding. Grandmother was like that, always with her torrent of criticism cocked and ready to fire. Mother could never do the dishes right, “Why didn’t you rinse them first?” The laundry was never clean enough, “The spot’s still there, I told you to use the other detergent.” And these were on the good days. I remember once Grandmother took the whole basket of perfectly acceptable clean white sheets and threw them out in the mud. “It’s an improvement,” she’d said. But my mother never complained. So Grandmother’s tongue had nothing but my mother’s blood to lap at as she twisted the silence into another ploy. In a way it was. I don’t know if Father knew what was happening. He spent so much time in the markets and then going door-to-door, sometimes from village to village, to sell the rest of the crop. But every day when he came home, at sunset or long after dark, he’d take off his mud-ridden rubber boots at the entryway, slosh off his heavy overcoat, and while my mother hung it up, he’d magically present her with a single flower. Common daisies and daffodils, roses and poppies, and a tulip once from out near
the German school. Every day, mother would smile at him as she brushed her nose against the petals and he’d plant a soft kiss at her forehead. Looking up at her one day, I asked why she didn’t talk to him. “I do talk to him, silly. Just not about silly things. Don’t let what Grandma says get to you. It doesn’t matter. I’ve made my choices and I’m happy. Don’t worry about me, okay sweetheart? Worry about you.” She tapped her finger at my nose and kissed my forehead before skipping off to put her new flower in a glass jar. That was the last thing my mother ever said to me. The next day her brothers, her own flesh and blood, finally found her. What kept them so long was probably the war. But after being deprived from killing Muslims, they unleashed their rage against their own. Later, even the courts would say it was done for “honor.” I was out in the garden playing with my dolls when I heard her scream. An adult screaming in fear is probably the worst sound any child could ever hear. They were beating her head against the wall when I stepped into the doorway. “You filthy little whore! How could you do this to us? Soil our name and our God? You ungrateful bitch!” my uncle said as he punched her in the face and then kicked her gut. She fell over in a heap. Clutching at her side and barely fighting back. There was a rush of movement as my grandmother entered the room and for the first time, the frown she directed at her daughter-in-law was one of sadness. “You cannot do this!” she said, trembling with anger yet making no motion to approach my mother, “She is in our house, she is ours and...” “She’ll be dead long before we let a filthy Muslim keep her,” said the shorter of the brothers, his tongue rolling around the word like a curse. He pulled Mother off the floor by her hair and began to drag her out. She screamed and reached back trying to claw at his hands as he yanked her back and forth. They were out of the house in a matter of seconds, and if I’m ever thankful to my grandmother for anything, it’s that she ran to me and held me in place as the gun sounded. It was the loudest sound I’d ever heard. An explosion ripping through my chest: I screamed until my throat tore and bled. Worse still were my father’s screams when he found her lynched, her lifeless body gently swaying from an apple tree in our garden.
Oates Series, Saba Sadr Oil on Canvas | These paintings are part of a series that stands as an Epilogue to one of Joyce Carol Oates’s short stories, entitled “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
OATES SERIES #1
OATES SERIES #2
Hit and run Tara Mahfoud
It was, my dear. Another misguided missile, another pothole in the street. Another comparison, confusion condition to attend to again and again. It was nothing, really just another hit and run. The song kept playing over and over, lying [down] again. What it was, really was our paralysis made discontent â€” a humbling remedy to arthritis, melancholic No, we said, we never would indulge again but the urge would always be. Clawing.
OATES SERIES #3
It would be a shame, I say. To be not without. But with. And without.
Your Moral Compass
all I ever wanted was to find your toothpaste caps across my sink and eyelashes on the left side of my pillow — as you searched for happiness at the bottom of a pill jar I wondered how you couldn’t find it in the sounds you muttered right before you fell asleep.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. — Pierre Teilhard When he takes every step away from you, when he takes every step away from where he sat, next to you on the stairs at West Hall, aren’t you grasping at time, all you can hold against your chest so it does not escape? You wish that the ancient architecture around you would lend its pillars to you. You think that maybe your gaze could burn through his aura, so he would stop and turn. You take off your glasses and wipe the dust of time off with your shirt. You ask yourself: Don’t my photoreceptor cells assimilate light with his motion? Is their intensity enough for my lenses to regulate and construct his silhouette as it disappears into a destination I am, for the first time, unfamiliar with? Did the notion electrify my core enough to send a gush of neural signals to my brain? You assure yourself that the nervous pathways must have been tangled because you never got the message. You never got the message over the last two years. Until that day in October. Go back with me to tenth grade, back when all you learned from Biology class, besides the eye function in the nervous system, is DNA mutations. He held your right hand under the desk and pretended to listen to how a mutation happened. You couldn’t focus because you had never let any boy touch you that way. Just this one time. You had to mark the memory in the red margin of your copybook. Sight. Mohammad. Mutations. That’s all you needed to know. No explanation, no scientific definition. The warmth of his hand would do for now, you say to yourself. He became your Midas, an explorer of alchemy through you. You gave him your right hand another time under the desk, and he spread gold from finger one to finger five, to wrist, arm, shoulder, neck and lips. He caught you smiling, and so do your teachers. “Enlighten us. Why the constant smiling?” your teacher asked. You would answer, but did you need to explain what your Chemistry teacher ought to know, what you thought everybody knows, including yourself? Doesn’t Midas go mad and out of control time after time of touching what was all around him? What was the point in turning what he had into the inanimate possessions? What was the point in turning you into a kaleidoscope of false perfections embodied in mirrors that surrounded your being, reflecting what you are to him:
a person that does not, must not, should not err. Up until being college sophomores, he extended his powers into you, touching every part he could get his hands on, until there were no more. He molded you into a figure that smiled, for no reason and for all the reasons, after an inspiring memory of tenth grade. He carried you in his arms and perched you on a pedestal. You found that it made you more than the bookworm you are; it made you beautiful. You walked with the spirit of Aphrodite inside of you, and you embraced it, the high expectations, and the adoration. You lifted your hands, despite the solid control, to form hand punches of a victorious love. Then, after some time in the summer before going off to college, you stumbled upon a TEDx event video on YouTube that spoke about how body language is everything, and that blind people, like ones with sight, instinctively do what you just did to express pride. You didn’t look beyond the literal meaning. Maybe it was the way in which his ego outstretched and slapped you in the face, or maybe it was the things he thought he could be without you. Friends, parties, girls and the different methods he claimed he could construct a sample of bridges for his civil engineering course project. It all accumulated faster than he thought it would. “Why am I still with you?” he would laugh it off, and then draw you closer to him. You try counting the muscles in his face that stretched, while he laughed, while his chest and epiglottis vibrated. You were to learn about these different parts involved in speech as part of your Phonetics course. The way his body parts cooperated to send the message was probably lesson one, except that you never paid attention to what it really meant. It’s summer again, and you hope that Mohammad won’t go all “I am chameleon” on you. The truth was, and what both of you were not aware of, was the fact that you too were shedding skin, changing color, and going about in different places: You applied for a student mentor position at the work-study program, you engaged in new social circles. It was mutual. But when it came to his relations with the people he knew, you came to know that you were a distasteful contribution to his social life. A glimpse of that truth rushed in from your senses to your very core. You humiliate him when he asks you for navigation at 11 p.m., as his friends wait for you. You answer that you don’t know. “This is a test to see if you really are responsible enough to handle matters like this in our relationship. It’s team work, right? Now, tell me where to go because I’ve never gone to Zaitouna Bay before.” He looks at me and then at the wheel. “I don’t like that place.” “I’ve only been there twice, and I don’t drive. Can we call one of your friends and ask for directions?” You blink twice before you say it. “But, no, we can’t,” he grows impatient, and you know he does because of the rush of blood to his ears. They redden as if to block anything useless you are saying. After an hour of going on a merry-go-round from Saint George Hotel, to Rawche, Downtown, you are enlightened of all the curse words you probably never heard before. He calls you stupid, a stupid bitch. He tells you to stop crying, that
you aren’t a baby. He tells you to get the fuck out of the car, if he sees one tear drop down. Sympathy or apathy, you could not tell. He expects you to know something he couldn’t know himself. He didn’t know what you didn’t know. So why was he trying to put you on a higher pedestal, where he expected you to know the things he didn’t, as if to fill the blanks of what he was missing. Did it mean you completed him? Or was it lack of self-security that he tried to seek in you, while he shouted until he looked like Donald Duck when he went into a fury, with the exception of his blood-colored ears. You watch him punch the numbers on his phone, and call one of his friends for directions. The tedious sounds that his fingers make, while pressing the eight digits rhyme with the way your heart pounds. You can hear the stressful music that your body plays for you in alarm of an exterior conflict. Your heart sings the melody of “I am, I am, I am” and your mind completes it with “not okay.” Until you reach your destination, silence lurks in the front seat. He puts one hand against his forehead, and drives with the other. Why isn’t he driving with both hands? Was it new body language that meant miscommunication? Why can’t the two hands hold the wheel for navigation? He won’t allow it. He laughs it off with his friends later when you reach the place. “Shu, where were you guys?” his friends say. “I made him lose direction,” you say, with a dry mouth. You need water after all that screaming. Water, water, water. You wanted to drown in it. You watch him as he approaches his friends and greets them all warmly. You stand there, hands clutching one another against your chest. The melancholic music in you has not stopped. You push your hands tighter to your chest in an attempt to mute the noise. Hopeless case. “She didn’t know, what am I supposed to do with her?” you hear him say to his friends a minute later. You watch as he laughs along with them. You force a smile and untangle your hands. Maybe if you do, he would recognize the music blaring from within you. How could he anyway? His ears are still shaded with red, a slightly less intense red, but still red. “But you didn’t know either, you don’t know,” you say to yourself. More days of not knowing came ahead, when a four-year-old truth slips from your head. “Yeah, he did kiss me,” you laugh about it. “What?” he holds your hand too tight and stops you. “I thought it was obvious. I was a stupid kid, and after you showed up, I saw no one else.” “He was your first kiss, and I wasn’t?” His sense of possession resurfaced, and he shook that pedestal so hard, forcing you off. The message after those two years finally hits, and you lay wide awake that night scolding yourself. You were lying to yourself when you said nobody kissed you, that he was your first. It was nothing more than his ego talking. Sure, a lie is a lie, but you knew that it had nothing to do with being veiled or being a girl in a Lebanese society, it had to do with property, that dramatic notion of being meant to be, kept
for a sacred one. Your moral compass hits its arrow at: Bullshit. After a week, he tells you to forget what happened. He walks right up to you, and kisses your forehead. You don’t believe it, but you swallow that pill anyway. You know that despite this empty gesture, it would not be the same. He becomes distant. “Can I see you today?” you ask him. “I’m going to the gym with my friends,” he tells you. “And after that?” “After that, I’m busy. I have to finish this project with Dany.” “Tomorrow?” “We’ll talk.” You slam the phone shut and count to ten. It’s a trick you learned from your psychologist, who welcomes you with that “How’s my anger management girl doing today?” You laugh at yourself; you know it is the best nickname for you now. You start visiting your psychologist for fun. You think it’s nice to have someone to talk to, especially that the someone-you-want-to-be-the-someone-you-talk-to is busy with another someone, and he was your only someone. Does it make sense? It didn’t at first for you. “How are you feeling today,” your doctor asks you. “How are you feeling?” You laugh beyond the question. He looks at you calmly, does not answer and just waits. You break down on the inside and it dissipates to the surface. You crack open. Over the last few months, you have grown sick of the treadmill between hell and heaven. “You’re one hell of an optimist if you think that years from now, we would still be together,” he says to you when you talk about future plans and after-graduation decisions while having breakfast at Krispy Kreme that one day. You think of mutation; a mutation that triggers a change in the overall result of who we are together, as a consequence of a different coding composed of his thoughtless words, for a fixed sequence of the love we shared. You finally know. You finally realize that you are given these universal conceptions, and as you grow up, you define them according to your own experiences. You narrate them from their literal alphabets to a spectrum of words and meanings. It was time for another universal concept. What do you think of “separation”? You think it is impossible. Separation meant inner indecisiveness that was trapped in the labyrinth of your mind. It meant cutting the last thread that tightened ever so lightly around your neck. It kept your body and mind intact, but you know you had to do it. You had to let separation seep into your veins; there was no other choice, no stoppage. You don’t dare to do it at first, but then you repeat “I love you” over and over again. He would say them to you whenever and wherever. If you were fighting, he would top it off with an “I love you” and if he handed you an insult, he accompanied it with those three words. There was no escape from repetition. You knew repetition was bad. You knew that when you repeat something one time after another, it grows on the back of your tongue. It automatically blurts out of you without even noticing.
Repetition was loss in meaning for you. You get blisters now whenever you say it back. “I love you” was no different than an “excuse me; I need to use the restroom”. It was monotonous, a euphemism for filling hollow gaps, for masking a real disgusting truth behind it. So, you leave, and he grows colder. It was all numb for you in the first two months. You try to talk to him, but you know it was stupid to do that, so you try to find him in other things that defined him: your mother’s khalas when you are fighting, your friend’s cynical jokes and every cross-over move you take on the basketball court (because he taught you to do that). You get lost in the discovery. Your GPA drops eight points, tension with your family builds up, you stop seeing your friends and frequent visits to doctors at the American University Hospital becomes your new thing. You make friends with white walls at the hospital. You stare at them, and figure out ways that could make punching them easier. Tough work, you assume. These walls look too rigid. On a Friday night one day, you let your friend from high school take you to a religion class. She tells you that you will love it, and you nod. Maybe it is about time to take a break away from gazing at walls. You enjoy the lesson, and it gives you this unknown energy that drives you into being yourself again. You look at the sheikh while he speaks, and notice the way in which his hands gestured while he speaks. All your body wants to do is sway along this movement; perhaps it will capture some of the purity and wrinkled wisdom his words depicted. Your solid state of closely affixed particles, vibrating against each other with accumulated tension, wants to burst into the cosmic serene atmosphere around you. You haven’t sensed this divinity wrapping its wings around you ever so profoundly until this day, in this dense air of spirituality. You ask yourself if you were ever truly happy with Mohammad, if he gave you answers to whatever you felt lacking in your life. Perhaps he did, for a while. Perhaps it was an abrupt state of mind, where your happiness took a mimicking form through momentary knocks on the doors of the ultimate form of self-satisfaction that never fades with the body: spiritual happiness. You finally know. You start diverging from the map that makes you find Mohammad in your surroundings, and look elsewhere. What you need is here, on the dusty left-side of the high shelf where your heart was kept hidden for months now; the belief that there is this Power looking after mankind. Day after day, you try to reach out for what’s on that shelf. You grow an inch taller every time you do, and your eyes witness a clearer vision of your heart. You start viewing your life from a different lens, from a place you never thought of searching for. It becomes your temple that soothes your pain, that makes it easy, that gives you an understanding of why, how and where to start. You seek that higher Power, and you let it seek you. You give way for your body to submit to your soul and mind, and you finally know that this sort of happiness returned the balance that Mohammad trembled, after he decided to put you on that pedestal. You finally know that you are human, that you are bound to make mistakes. Some people will leave when you do, but you come to realize the importance of keeping your door open, to let go of the knob, to let go and leave open. Mohammad wasn’t
an end to your means of self-growth. He was the road to what was greater, to what makes you comfortable in your ever-changing skin; a Constant. You put your compass on the ground, and watch the arrow diverge from one angle to another. You give it the time it needs; you give yourself the time you need to settle, to indulge in peace and direction. Your moral compass reads: Bullseye.
BLACK ICE Norbert Hirschhorn and Lee Gould
— or never. Under her breath now as she comes to me with half a smile, half hidden in the frothy silks she’d wound about her hair, neck and shoulders — silk, its sheen, the pale folds caressing her skin as if alive, gliding over black ice while a faint redolence of attar proved her neither a boyish dream nor guileless. Neither a boyish dream nor guileless, a faint redolence of attar proved her alive, gliding over black ice while caressing her skin as if silk, its sheen, the pale folds about her hair, neck and shoulders — hidden in the frothy silks she’d wound, as she comes to me with half a smile, half, under her breath now — or never.
My First Watch Rami Zurayk
A woman gave me my first watch. It belonged to her dead husband, and it was an old style pocket watch with a golden chain. As I put it in my pocket, she looked at me with a mixture of sadness and tenderness and made a gesture as if to embrace me, but I stepped back and walked away. I never saw her again, but her expression is engraved in my memory and often recurs in my dreams. I met that woman in Beirut, a few months after my arrival from the South. The year was 1936. I know because in the city everything has a date and a time and one never lost track of years. I must have been 15 or 16, who knows? Unlike the city, there were no birthday parties in the hamlet where I was born. My trip to the capital was supposed to be brief. My mother woke me up one day in the early fall. I thought she had made breakfast. I looked around for food, my stomach hurting from having slept hungry, but there was nothing on the floor where we used to eat. No plates, no tea, no bread. Just the floor. “Get up. You have to go,” she told me. “Where to?” “To Beirut, to find your father. We’re out of everything. It is the end of summer and there is nothing left to forage from the fields. Your brothers are hungry and you are the eldest. You have to go and find that son of a bitch who hasn’t sent money in two months. Tell him that he has a family and a wife here and that the pantry is empty just like his damned soul.” She wrapped a piece of bread in an old cloth and set me off towards the Nabatiyyeh road to find transportation to the capital. “Your father lives in Basta,” she told me. “Find him. Get some money. And don’t forget to come back.” I left at first shadows. I went across the fields where the women were harvesting what was left of the tobacco leaves on the emaciated stalks. By mid-morning I had reached the Nabatiyyah road where I caught a ride in a collective taxi. We travelled through a hilly landscape, the car huffing and puffing on the climbs and freewheeling on the way down. Around us, endless ochre fields unfolded towards the horizon. We passed a large village surrounded with olive orchards, and then the road was downhill all the way to the sea, where we caught the coastal road to the city.
IntoxiCating Exposure, Sandy Abdallah Watercolor | A nude man who has been intoxicated by the heady and erotic experience of being utterly exposed for all to see.
When we got to Beirut the driver dropped me in the middle of a broad street full of people. I asked around and eventually found the house where my father lived. At his door, I told him about the money. He said I had to earn it and found me a job as a newspaper boy.
I was good at selling newspapers. I knocked at doors and accosted people in the street, smiled at everyone, and remembered the names of my customers. I went to shops in the old souqs and stood in ambush at street corners and near banks and offices. I visited the cafes and joked with the patrons. The owners gave me tea and sometimes food leftovers, and I ate them happily whilst listening to the conversations people were having, which happened to be mostly about politics. Whenever I was tipped, I gladly accepted. I had soon saved enough for clothes, which I bought from the Souq al Beleh, the used clothes market in the center of the old city. I was done selling the morning papers by noon. The afternoon edition did not appear until about 3 pm, so I had plenty of time to walk through the old souqs as a visitor and not as the newspaper boy. The center of Beirut often stank of foul water. It was full of people and I loved losing myself in the crowd. I followed pretty women who smelled like nothing I knew, trying to get close enough for a whiff of their swooning perfume. It made my heart shiver and my head spin. The women unwittingly led me through the city. We walked through `Azariyyeh where the Lazarist school was located, to Daraj Khan el Bayd, the long staircase leading to the fish souq which reeked of rotting entrails. I passed through the butcher’s souq decorated with offals and painted in blood, to the vegetable souq where I treaded on carpets of rotting lettuce leaves and onion skins. The Souq al Franj had everything — chicken, meat, fruits, vegetables, and fish; but it was cleaner, and the food was so carefully displayed it looked like an exposition. This was where the best smelling women shopped. Although I wasn’t interested in jewelry, nor did I really care for gold and gems, it was the jeweler’s souq that fascinated me the most. What I loved were the watches. There were rows upon rows of round, square, and rectangular timepieces in the shop windows. I daydreamed about owning a device that would allow me to keep track of the hours and minutes and seconds. But I could never save enough to buy one. I barely had enough left for eating after my father took his share. Gradually I got to know the regular visitors to the souqs, especially the women. These I could tell apart from their scent. There was one I particularly liked, she had long black hair and smelled of what I later learned to be white musk. She was always neatly dressed and strolled lazily from shop to shop, her large hips rolling over the maladjusted cobblestones of Souq al Tawileh. She often bought food in Souq al Franj before taking the tramway’s Line One to Gemmayzeh. I sought her and followed her. I even took the tram with her a couple of times. I sat quietly behind her and laid my head on the back of her seat and drank her perfume.
south talked about the tobacco monopoly, which was sucking the blood of the peasants. There were also strikes in the northern districts of Batroun and Jbeil where people planted tobacco. Like the southerners, they were violently repressed. But then suddenly the whole thing turned into a Christian-Muslim fight and everyone forgot about wages and tobacco prices. There were bloody confrontations between the Muslim inhabitants of Basta and the Christians in Gemmayzeh, and people started to organize and arm themselves. I found politics nonsensical. I was too busy smelling women in the streets, and Musk was driving me crazy. I masturbated frantically several times a day fantasizing about her and how she would taste and how it would feel to lay my head on her broad bosom. I draped her silhouette over the only female body I knew, that of my stepmother, and made love to her. And when I was caught peeping and had to leave and find another place to stay, I took her with me to the staircase where I spent my first night and then to the house where I shared a large room with a dozen other workers. I kept seeking her and following her. A few months after our first encounter, a man started to accompany her. I disliked him immediately. He was dressed like a khawaji,1 with a three-piece suit and oiled black hair parted in the middle. A thin, waxed moustache cut across his pale face. He sometimes carried a black cane with a silver pommel. But most distinctly he had a golden watch, which he kept attached to his belt with a thick golden chain. As if to mock me, he would frequently take it out and consult it. At the end of their stroll, he would adjust it to the large clock of the church in Bab Idris, polish it on his sleeve and slip it back in his breast pocket before hopping with her onto the Number One tramway. I loathed him. Musk and I hardly ever had a moment alone after his appearance. He had ruined everything, even her scent, which he fouled with his cologne. Her betrayal killed me. Day and night I cultivated my rage with images of their naked bodies, her tender flesh pressed against his yellow skin.
Selling newspapers taught me about money and politics. Around me in the cafes of Basta people spoke freely. They were upset about their lives and about being ruled by the French, who had kept Lebanon under their mandate since the end of the War. The men talked about events and they argued and quarreled and sometimes even fought. 1937 was tough for everyone except for the rich. There had been strikes and demonstrations against the French and their local cronies everywhere in the South, in the towns of Saida, Sour, Nabatiyyeh, and Bint Jbeil. In the papers, the columnists wrote about independence and freedom, but in the cafes the men from the
I started spending a lot of time in the cafés where I sat silently and listened to the conversations to take my mind off her. Plots were being hatched and conspiracies planned. There were weapons, mostly handguns circulating, but also razors and knives and sometimes even a couple of hand grenades. Because I was able to go everywhere unnoticed, I started delivering missives and packages on my paper rounds. Some of these were heavy and had weapons in them, and others were just papers, tracts and flyers that were to be posted and distributed, calling for rebellion, revolt and dissent. I charged a fee. I did pretty well at my new job, and became a trustworthy messenger for conspirators of all creed and color. I had no particular preference, as long as their money was good. But my spite was mining me. I was fulminating. I stopped wanting her, I now just wanted him. Removed. Disappeared. In pain. Naked in the middle of the street with rats picking at his testicles. I had visions of myself in his clothes, with his watch, accompanying her home, tearing her dress off and ravishing her. 1. Traditional coffee vendor
The clashes between Basta and Gemmayzeh had worsened and the French were cracking down on everyone. Scores of militants were caught, beaten and jailed. The mood in the cafes was explosive, and there were hushed talks about planning an attack that would spark an armed rebellion. I was approached for a special delivery. This time my commissioner did not talk to me in the café. I followed two young men through the maze of back streets to a building in the heart of Basta. We took a staircase to the first floor, where I was made to wait for a while behind a door. The two men disappeared, and I was starting to look for the exit when the door opened and I heard a voice asking me to step in. There was a wooden chair in the middle of the room, right next to an improvised curtain made from a blanket hung on a rope. I sat on the chair. I heard someone move behind the curtain. “I have a job for you, but it is more dangerous than usual. But before I tell you about it, I have to know for sure that you are on our side.” “I have been delivering stuff for many months, and I can be trusted.” “We need to free our country from the French and unite with the Arab nation. Are you with us?” “I am an Arab.” “In any case, if you talk to anyone, your head will be cut.” “What do you want me to do?” I was asked to place a package near the gendarmerie adjacent to the Gemayel pharmacy. It was a timed device, set to explode two minutes after I activate a small switch. The goal was to assassinate Colonel Blondain, who, according to intelligence, was to visit the gendarmerie at noon. Like everyone else in Beirut, I knew the man. Tall and wiry, he had a hideous scar on the chin, a souvenir of the Bint Jbeil battle of 1922 when the French sent the Colonne Sud to pacify Jabal `Amel. A rebel had cornered him in a house and was grappling with him, trying to slit his throat when an air raid buried them both. The rescuers found them embraced, Blondain’s hands still clutched around his dead assailant’s neck. He was now the head of the Sureté Generale and had built a reputation for ruthlessness. He had been particularly cruel with the prisoners who were caught in the latest bout of arrests. The plan was simple. I was to wait till Blondain’s car appeared at the end of the street, walk by the gendarmerie as if I was selling papers and place the package in the garbage can near the entrance before disappearing into the crowd. Two minutes was exactly what he needed to get out of the car, inspect the gendarmes before stepping into the building. The bomb, made from two hand grenades and a timer, would kill everyone within a 10-meter radius. I needed this mission. To earn the man’s trust, I said that I wouldn’t charge a fee. On the set day, I went to the café, took the package and walked straight to Souq el Franj. I found them. Strolling among the tomatoes and the mangoes. I shadowed them, shuffling lightly between the passersby. They went through their usual round. He took out his watch and polished it. I kept mine under my arm. They hopped on the tram and I went after them. I sat right behind them. At the Martyrs’ Square stop, I slid my package under their seat and quickly got down. The tram was moving slowly in the midday traffic and I had no difficulties fol-
lowing it on foot. Then it got faster and I had to run. The explosion threw me to the ground. There was smoke and dust and an acrid smell that bit into my windpipes. There were shouts and cries and moans and groans. I went to the wagon and stepped over the charred bodies, the torn metal and the broken glass. There she was, eyes wide open, lying legless in a pool of blood. He was dead, half his body a meaty mess. I heard her whimper as I reached for the watch. Our eyes met. She made a gesture as if to embrace me, but I stepped back and walked away.
Mama Butterfly Eyad Houssami
The first performance of Mama Butterfly on April 6, 2008, at the Danish Institute in Damascus, was banned five hours before curtain.
Notes on Language The primary language of this text is English although it is a monodrama in three languages. The play was originally authored in colloquial Arabic and French. Some phrases and words — primarily conjunctions, interjections, and fillers — are in the original Arabic. Please refer to the footnotes for the pronunciation, meaning, and usage. Transliterated Arabic words, but not place names, have been italicized, and you may refer to the footnotes for the meaning. The original French text has not been translated into English. Nehla’s English and Arabic are native, but she speaks French with an Arabic accent. She transitions from language to language fluidly and usually unconsciously.
Notes to Directors The performance should run around fifty minutes, definitely no more than an hour. Nehla remains on the chaise longue for almost the entire performance and adjusts her position every so often. Nehla never dons an artificial voice when she is relating what another character has said. She may subtly vary tempo and pitch to differentiate between herself and others in moments of dialogue. The text is based on a series of interviews conducted in Beirut in 2007.
About the Character NEHLA AUZBASHI Obese widow in her late seventies. Disarmingly charming, going blind. She may be old, but she is lucid and speaks with confident vibrancy. She gets a kick out of her warm flair for humor, and she thinks she’s ready to die.
Concrete Butterflies, Mayssa Jallad Digital Collage | Expresses the uneasy feeling of being burdened by something heavy but futile.
A chaise longue and a small table. A pair of shoes on the floor. On the table, an empty glass, a coffee cup and saucer, and a Turkish coffee pot. A bag of pistachios and a glass pitcher of water on the floor behind the table.
and especially because we were cute, يعنيthe first thing we had to do was get married young. Et c’était l’opinion de tout le monde. يعنيwe needed men to look after us and fast. After Baba’s6 death, I had to step up to the plate: I was in charge. I was nine-years-old. Still, I did what I wanted to do, and nothing was going to stop me.
NEHLA is glad — as if she’s just welcomed guests she loves into her home. She is seated with her legs extended on the chaise longue. Bare feet. She takes off her glasses and wipes them clean. Pours a cup of coffee. Sips.
Mama’d send me to school at eight, I have lunch there. My brother and sisters go back home at four, I do my études at school. I finish my études at six and go back home. Because Mama has — she needs time. She keeps me at school because she has to bathe my brother and sisters and to teach them. If I were around, she wouldn’t be able to do all these things. Therefore, I stay at school so that she has time to do, uh… uh… to teach my brother and sisters. Six o’clock, Abu Saïd picks me up, six o’clock. I study, I do my homework, I do my études. And then:
NEHLA Rashad never lets a day go by.
يعني1 he never sits around at home. He’d call me from the office: “Get ready, I’m
picking you up.” Five-thirty, he leaves, he’s downstairs, we head to our friends’. And then there’s a cocktail hour, so we go have cocktails. He comes back home, changes: “Go to bed, get some sleep.” Sleep? Cocktail hour, and I’m done for the night? Why sleep? “Ah, I’m meeting my buddy so-and-so at La Cave des Rois and my pal such-andsuch at Mocombo around eleven… twelve… one…” We were a group of friends, we’d go out, dance the night away in Beirut. The end of the night, there’s this place: Al Ajami2… in Al Souq Al Taweeleh.3 Al Souq Al Taweeleh was a narrow street, pavé, a narrow alley in the souqs, the heart of the city. Les meilleurs magasins étaient à Al Souq Al Taweeleh. Les deux côtés, il y avaient des magasins, et à la fin… vers la fin… une petite boutique qui s’appele Ajami. Où ils vendaient ma’adem,4 home cooking, drinks, foul m’demmes,5 hummus, يعنيtout ce qu’il y a plats comme plats libanais. It’s gone — Al Ajami is gone now. The war, I don’t know, there’s nothing left anymore. Breakfast at Ajami at dawn, and the sun rises at five. We come home, sleep a bit, Rashad gets dressed, goes to work. And I stay at home. It lasted a good while. Same story, everyday, day after day. I wasn’t too thrilled to leave Damascus because I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t want to marry outside of Damascus. Get married… new place, new friends, new people, you lose it.
يعنيa girl like me — like me and my sisters — our father died when we were young — 1 . Yaanee: literally, "it means." Used more commonly as "um," "uh," or "I mean." 2 . Ajami: a family name from southern Lebanon. The word holds many meanings. As an adjective, it may characterize someone as a non-Arab or a mute. 3 . Literally, "the long market." 4 . Baby lamb hooves. 5 . Baked fava beans.
(Echoes the Franciscan nuns.) “Nehla Auzbashi, éh... étudiez ces cents — le… eh… ces — ces cents vers de la matière!” “Nehla Auzbashi, lisez cette comédie de Corneille.” “Auzbashi, faîtes ceci.” Donc, I’m reading, reading, reading. Out of nowhere, the nun pulls me aside, and what does she say to me? “Allez décorez la chappelle.” In the church, there was — in the school, there was a small church. The nuns all pray there. Uh, she says to me, “Allez décorez la chappelle!” C’était mon plaisir d’aller décorer la chappelle! Why? THE FLOWERS! IN THE GARDEN! Un grand jardin! I’d steal to the garden and snip flowers all day long. يعنيI was free as a bird in the garden! The berry tree, the peach tree, snip, snip, snip. Every now and again — again and again, actually — even now, I see my garden in my dreams as it was in the Franciscan School… So, I’d snip flowers and decorate the chapel. All by myself. Le mois de mai, they move the virgin to the garden. There was a grotto in the garden, and they move her to the grotto in May. As they say, “Le mois de mai, c’est le mois de Marie.” Alors, moi, je passais, toute heureuse mon temps dans le jardin. Snip this flower, trade that vase, swap those flowers. Et je décorais, etcetera! Je m’amusais comme une folle. Seulement, le soir, quand mes — eh mes — mon frère et ma soeur partaient à la maison, I’d sit and read Corneille and Racine and Lamartine and… what’s his name again? I don’t know! All those guys, I’d memorize them all. On m’a appris des choses à n’en plus finir. يعنيif you give me a line, I’ll spout all the verses off for you, one after another. And then back home… 6 . Dad in Arabic.
I used to be an artichoke thief. There was a field in front of our house. A wheat field, and alongside the field — les bordures — artichokes. The wheat… oh it’s beautiful at night. You’re sound asleep, you hear the sound of the wheat: It’s shivering. When it shoots up and turns green, the poppies blossom in between. The view from the balcony takes your breath away. Now, it’s all concrete, concrete, concrete… يا لطيف7.
When she said ولي على قامتي, I burst into tears… if I wasn’t crying, I was going to get it bad. “Yeeeeeeeeee! !”ولي على قامتي She took me to the doctor; he treated me, gave me medicine. “How did you steal — how did this happen to you?” I told her. “I was stealing artichokes. I’m an artichoke thief.” J’avais l’habitude de ne pas mentir. Mama said to me, “Suits you: that’s what you’ll get until you repent your sin.” (She begins fiddling with her nails.) Et depuis ce jour, je n’ai plus rien volé. Ni dans le jardin, ni même des fleurs sur la rue.
بقى8 the bordures were like that — artichokes. And I love artichokes, raw. بقىthere was this wall, this tall, uh… uh… en boue, paille et boue. You know? Dirt and hay. This tall, a low bordure, a wall, but on top they had barbelé. One, two, three. بقىI’d climb onto the wall, duck under the barbelé, swoop down, steal artichokes, and retreat. Only in the afternoon because Mama would be at a زيارة9, and I was free, I had nothing.
One day, the farmer shows up out of nowhere. The farmer comes up out of nowhere, I have to flee. I climb onto the wall, pass over it, and the barbelé, I need to get down — my hand gets caught from here to here in the barbelé. You can probably still feel the scar. Sôtte comme je suis, tu sais les fils de barbele, on ne peut pas faire ça. On doit faire — la prendre en haut. Moi, je ne le savais pas. I pulled and kept pulling it from my arm until it tore through the skin from here to here. Back at the house… Mama was home. I wrapped it in cotton, I put on a pansement, and I hid it. Mama comes in: “Yella,10 kids, bath time!” We get into the bath tub; she bathed us because c’était elle qui me baignait les cheveux: J’avais les cheveux très longs. Je ne pouvais pas les laver moi-même. يعني, j’ai gardé mes cheveux… jusqu’à l’âge de dix-sept ans. Down to here, long and blond. Je le massais, wrap it, wrap it, twist it, twist it on my head, make a chignon this big. My mom won’t ever let me cut it. It started to bleed. Nehla looks at her arm and gazes upward, catching the panicked eyes of her mother. “Give me your arm!” I gave her my arm. “Give me your right arm!” I had it behind my back. “Give me your right arm!… What happened?” I told her, “Nothing, Mama. Just a little scratch.” She took off the pansement and saw the open wound. “Yeeeeeeeeee! !” ولي على قامتي11 7 . Ya lateef: Lord almighty. 8 . Ba'ah: literally, "he stayed." Used more commonly as "so" or "as I was saying." 9 . Zeeyara: a visit to a friend's house. 10 . Literally, "let's go." Used more commonly as "come on." 11 . Oo lee aala amtee: God, help us!
She fiddles with her nails in silence for a beat or two. You know, when it comes to politics, I wasn’t too — — يعنيcolonialism didn’t get to me. For many reasons. Premièrement, notre voisin en bas, c’était un aviateur français. And his wife who came with him to Damascus was really nice. Ils avaient un bébé de l’âge de ma soeur, Wafaa. Et c’était une femme très gentille. Et pour Wafaa, Mama needed milk, she needed — and when, when the lady used to go to the French co-op, she’d take Mama with her. Elle nous achetait du chocolat français, du pain français, le lait Nestlé pour Wafaa. Même les bibrons pour Wafaa. يعني Mama’d buy all sorts of things. Donc, these people were our friends. Donc, we had nothing against… we didn’t think about politics back then. Eh, c’est — eh — these days, even toddlers run around talking politics, but back then nous n’avions pas d’idées politiques.
بعدين12 le voisin dans… eh… eh… l’immeuble à côtés, c’était le chef de la police de Damas. Sa femme, Mme Lefèvre, était très gentille aussi.
Donc, nous étions les seules dans Bustan al Raïs13 avec lesquels ils avaient des contacts. They’d come over, we’d go to their place, downstairs, the pilot’s wife, and I remember her son — one blue eye, one green eye. Un très beau bébé. Nous avions des amis français. Comme nous étions dans une école française et comme maman parlait français, donc, we had relationships with them. Pour moi, la domination française ne me gênait pas. Tu vois? Je n’avais pas d’idées politiques. بس14 everyone wanted to get rid of the French, donc they got rid of them. When there’d be riots, et il y a avait des émeutes لكآن,15 the students’d want to open the door of the school. بسelles étaient tous des filles; il n’y avait pas de garçons avec nous. Only girls and the Franciscan nuns, and we had this giant door. La porte en fer était du côté de la rue principale. Mais il y avait une grande porte en bois qui avait un — une barre de fer comme ça qui était du côté de la rue adjacente. De la rue intérieure. Et l’école était très près de ma maison. يعنيcomment dire… où est la 12 . Baadein: in addition, also. 13 . Literally, "the garden of the king." The Royal Garden. 14 . Bass: but. 15 . La-kan: of course.
pharmacie? C’est très près. J’allais et je venais à pieds.
cinquante-sept ou cinquante-cinq... مبلى
Alors, when there’d be riots, all the students want to run outside:
Il m’a mise à la Cité Universitaire, et j’ai vécu à la Cité Universitaire dans le pavillion. C’était un tout nouveau pavillion, c’était le pavillion de Cambodge. Le pavillion était presque vide — il y avait certaines personnes... I rented a room in the Cambodian Pavillion.
“France: Out of Syria! Out, out, out!” “France: I don’t know what!” They yell the same nonsense every time. They weren’t opening the door. They were afraid of opening the door. Qui était l’instigatrice? Moi. ... comme d’habitude. I opened the door. Yella, je faisais ça, je faisais ça... The door opened. All the girls ran out. Me, I went home. (Laughs.) Elles sortaient par la rue, moi j’allais à la maison parce que je n’avais pas le droit d’y aller! If Mama knew, I’d be beaten or scolded, alors je ne veux être ni battue et ni grondée. (Still laughing.) Why’d I open the door? They had to storm out to the protest, I don’t know! (Laughs.) Pas voit! C’est une émeute. I told you, je suis une rébèle. يعنيI want to stir things up. …يعنيmoi, je veux faire quelque chose. Ce que les filles ne pouv — ne devaient — ne pouvaient pas faire, elles avaient peur, je l’ai fait moi, j’ai ouvert la porte. بسelles — elles sont sorties, moi je suis rentrée chez moi. (Giggles.) Et nous allions de deux côtés opposés! J’ai perdu tout le matin. The girls ran out, me I went back home. Mama says to me, “What are you doing here?” I told her, “There was a protest.” C’est tout. Je ne pouvais pas dire plus que ça. Because if I spilled the beans, I would’ve gotten it, gotten it bad. We had to send Khaled to France. Il a reçu second au baccalaureat, et la Syrie s’est obligée de lui donner une bourse. To study at the Ecole Centrale in Paris. Alors, il est venu dire à maman... tu sais, nous étions... comment dirais-je — juste — nous n’étions pas très aisés. Et nous n’étions pas pauvre, بسjuste à la ligne. — يعنيce que — we came into an inheritance from Baba that was just enough for our expenses. Alors, college in France was a huge burden. Alors, the Syrian Republic awarded Khaled a scholarship. Khaled est venu dire à maman, “Listen, Mama: they’re giving me a scholarship for the Ecole Centrale in Paris. If I go, I have to come back to Damascus and work twelve years for Syria in order to pay them back for the scholarship.” The first year, Mama didn’t want him to come back. She said to me, “You go visit him.”
Eh... il m’a montré les anciens — non pas les anciens — voilà — you know when you go to Paris, you see the Folies Bergères, tu vas voir, eh... eh... le Théâtre de Paris. Lui, il ne m’emmenait pas là-bas. Il me — il ne me — he’d take me to these hole-in-thewall bars, dans ces — comme on est — comme il était étudiant, il n’avait pas beaucoup d’argent. It was wonderful because I got to see the debut of some singers... tu vois? Par exemple, en fifty-seven, eh... uh... j’ai commencé — j’ai vu pour la première fois le début de Dalida. Quand elle chantait “Bambino, Bambino.” Tu t’imagines? Starts to hum the melody of “Bambino, Bambino” in an effort to remember the lyrics. It’s a bumpy ride at first, but she finds her way soon enough. Tu peux fumer comme un Monsieur des cigarettes Te déhancher sur le trottoir quand tu la guettes Tu peux pencher sur ton oreille, ta casquette Ce n’est pas ça, qui dans son cœur, te vieillira Sings almost fully now. She rises with great difficulty, struggling to maintain her breath, and walks downstage center. She nearly loses her breath in the process. L’amour et la jalousie ne sont pas des jeux d’enfant Et tu as toute la vie pour souffrir comme les grands Et gratte, gratte sur ta mandoline Mon petit Bambino Ta musique est plus jolie que tout le ciel de l’Italie Et canta, canta de ta voix câline mon petit Bambino Tu peux chanter tant que tu veux Elle ne te prend pas au sérieux Si tu as trop de tourments ne les garde pas pour toi Va le dire à ta maman les mamans c’est fait pour ça Et là, blotti dans l’ombre douce de ses bras Pleure un bon coup et ton chagrin s’envolera When she ends the song, she stands in silence for a beat. She turns around, takes in the empty stage. She returns to the chaise longue slowly. It takes her a while to sit. She pulls three napkins out of her pistachio bag and places them like a bib over her chest. She begins eating pistachios, one after the other, and drops the shells onto her chest. She eats pistachios for the rest of the play. The shells slowly pile up into a
Donc, j’ai été à Paris pour la première fois... (Silence.) en cinquante-sept... en 16 . Embella: used in this context to mean, "No, I'm right."
mound on her bosom. You know, I love children. A lot. Everybody’s children. My mother-in-law — الله يرحمها — used to say to me, “Whoever sees you running after children like that will think you have none.” I know how to take care of them, and — this is key — they love me. Why? Wish I could tell you.
When I was pregnant with Rasheed, there wasn’t écho — pour voir si c’est un mâle ou une female. We didn’t have it back then. I wanted a boy — why? Not because we needed a boy, but I have a girl, Nawal. If I had a second girl, they’d say, “Have a third child, a boy.” And me and Rashad, we said we’d have just two. بقىwe needed a boy, you know? I’d go to the doctor and tell him: “Doctor, it’s a boy.” “الله
انشا18 ya19 Madame!” he’d say. What does he know!
I’m seven months… seven months pregnant with Rasheed. I’m driving and get in a car accident. A car crashed into me, it hit me. No… no big deal. Next day, we’re invited to dinner on a boat. There was a boat coming in from France, and Rashad and I were invited to dinner. We were getting ready — comme d’habitude, j’ai l’habitude de porter des hauts talons. You know, even now I wear high heels. يعنيokay now I sometimes wear low heels because I’m an old hag, but back then this high, like Nawal.
بقىwe head out, we had a night out on the boat, dinner and so on. I remember, I was
wearing a black dress, it was pleated all around, pleated and pencil-thin. I was in my seventh month, but I was skinny, not like now.
We left the yacht, finished up with dinner, it was ten, ten-thirty. There was this place… really famous place… called La Cave des Rois. La Cave des Rois.
يعنيc’est une cave. With marble sculptures everywhere. Et c’est une place très
renommé, très reconnue. Tous les gens qui y allaient, on y allaient en robes longues, etcetera. Parées... eh... bijoutées, etcetera.
We finished up with the boat, Rashad says to me, “Let’s go to Cave des Rois?” We were a group at dinner, we turned to them, “Who wants to come with us to Cave des Rois?” Who was playing at Cave des Rois? A band just in from South America. They were… the pachanga was all the rave. And you know, I’d kill for a dance any day. I started doing the pachanga. From the second we stepped into the club... ten-thirty... from ten-thirty on the dot until… four-thirty in the morning, I’m dancing on the piste. Then, I can’t handle it anymore, my feet were killing me, I kick off my heels, start dancing barefoot. Rashad laughs, “Pull this poor woman off the piste! I swear, she’s pregnant!” 17 . Allah yerhamah: May she rest in peace. 18 . Inshallah: usually translated as "God willing." In practice, it means "probably not." 19 . A direct address particle of endearment.
His friends all laugh, “Your wife? Pregnant? If you say so…” And I’m dancing, twirling, whirling. Till four-thirty. Four-thirty, we head back home. I’m putting on my nightgown, dead-tired: “Whoooof! والله20 I’m in pain.” “Something wrong?” “ ”… واللهBecause Rashad was terrified of getting sick. If he had any idea how horrible I was feeling, right then and there he’d have taken me to the emergency room. I went to sleep; next morning, woke up in my blood. He says to me, “Not good, not good!” (Shrieks.) “We’re going to the hospital!” Saw the doctor, he examined me. “What’s the verdict, doctor?” He says, “Two months. In bed. On your back. You like filet mignon? They cut it for you, right? They’ll cut it for you, they’ll serve it to you, budge an inch and the baby is gone.” Okay, fine, two months, why not. Who was going to take care of me? Mama. We called Mama: “Ya Mama, long story short: it’s a long story, come here now.” Of course, she lost her mind. And Syria — what’s happening in Syria? Coup d’état! Hafez al Assad overthrowing the Baathists, the ones who held Iraq, you know? Same day as the coup d’état. Roadblocks everywhere, and the road to Damascus was closed. Rashad tells her, “مرت عمي21 take a plane.” He’ll pick her up from the airport. She took a plane from Damascus, he picked her up from the airport, and she came to take care of me. Two months. Me, on my back in the bed. Day in, day out, he carries me, plops me on the couch in front of the television like so. Lunch, dinner, dishes, I eat on the couch. At night, transfers me to my bed. Two months.
يعنيI lost my mind. She pauses for a moment and stops eating. She thinks of her mother.
الله يرحمها Mama… Her heart stopped, that was it. She had passed on when the doctor came. I went to Damascus, by her side, and she was dead. I sat there. We did the عزاء22 and all, Rashad went back for the kids, then he took a couple days off and brought the kids back with him. Three days, we mourned. We returned to Beirut. C’était l’année où ma mère était morte. (Resumes eating pistachios.) But on the way back — the massacres had started in the mountains. On the road… we took the road through the mountains, Rashad says to me, “Don’t look down into the valley.” He didn’t want the kids to notice. 20 . Wallah: literally, "and God." A reasonable translation could be "Well, to be honest…" 21 . Mert ammi: literally, "wife of my uncle." It is a term of direct address to a mother-in-law. 22 . Azza: funeral service
I peered down into the valley like so, cadavers tossed into the valley. C’est depuis ce moment là que ça a commencé petit-à-petit jusqu’à ce — eh — ça a éclaté en soixante-quinze. Right there, from the car window, not deep into the valley. There! يعنيyou’ve got the valley, they just tossed, flung them like that, gushing blood. يعني the ones that I saw — because I used to be able to see, you know — they were five. بقى who knows how many I didn’t see, how many were on down past that, I didn’t dare look again because I was afraid the kids would notice. First time I see cadavers. First time.
used to be a wasteland. Bread, you couldn’t even find bread in Saudi, وحياة الله.23 يعنيthey were more backwards than you can imagine. But they weren’t fanatics like they are today — abayeh24 and whatnot. I never wore an abayeh.
I didn’t go back to Syria after that. I didn’t dare go back to my country. Rashad’s work took him to Saudi; the kids and I were by ourselves. Never, ever again did I go to Damascus. The Gulf Air people wanted to open a new office in Saudi. They invited Rashad to take charge. He was with British Airways, with Brits, said he didn’t want to work with Arabs, so he turned down the offer. يعنيfor Rashad, leaving Beirut was out of the question. يعنيthe Shiites emigrate, the Maronites emigrate, not so for the Sunnis because, who are we kidding, Beirut is the Sunnis’. He’ll tell you: This is my country, why leave my country? I’ve got my job, I’m here, my family, my religion, my uncle, my cousin, my niece, my nephew, my relatives — يعني they talked like this before the war. The war started in ‘75. Cost of living rose, and British Airways was laying off its employees. They gave him his compensation — and told him, “Good luck.” We started to live off his compensation. I’m reading the newspaper one day: Demandant gouvernante pour mille livres par mois. Sachant le français et l’arabe. Et... congé samedi après midi et dimanche. Hand it to him and say, “If you don’t take the job in Saudi, I’m going to submit an application and go keep house.” Rashad prenait au serieux ce que je lui disais. Parce qu’il savait que quand je dis quelque chose je le fais, n’est-ce pas? He didn’t say a word. Saturday, he meets with one of his friends on his way to becoming the director of Gulf Air in Bahrain, tells him, “I’ll take the job. Where’s the job?” “In Jeddah.” “Fine, we’ll move to Jeddah.” Next day, he tells me he took the job in Jeddah. Finally, I could relax! يعنيwe weren’t going to be spending the — uh… uh… uh… — the reserves, you know? We wouldn’t be spending the money he got from British Airways. We’d be making money, and back then the salaries in Sau — in the Gulf were big; and they were paying him a Saudi salary. He went to Saudi, booked a room in a hotel as usual. He stayed in the hotel: Saudi
We went house hunting, found a villa, and what a villa! Just stunning! واللهtant qu’il y a de l’argent... We furnished the house, the salon, the kitchen, the dining room, carpets, bedrooms, the sitting room, TV room, upstairs: Rasheed’s room, Nawal’s. يعنيwe furnished, we decorated, etcetera, hired the guy, put up the curtains, brought over the gardener, fixed up the garden. And what did I bring with me? All sorts of fruit, peaches, uh… uh… fruits like that. You couldn’t find them over there, they didn’t used to import, I brought them with me. I’d eat an avocado, mulch the soil, and plant all the seeds. Planted around four avocados. On the other side — outside the kitchen — also a garden — uh — as large as the parking lot downstairs, I planted it all — parsley, cilantro, mint. يعنيI want to make some tabbouleh, I’d cut my parsley, chop it up. I need cilantro — c’est très pratique, and much more fragrant when it’s fresh. Then, they brought me mint from, uh… uh… from Medinah. Medinah mint, smells delicious, planted it in my garden. The other villa — we were four villas next to each other — the other villa, the neighbor, she’d say: “The mint is wafting through my window, I’m making tea — could I come down, snip a few of your leaves?” “Of course,” I’d tell her. We lived the good life. The villa was ready, all furnished. Time for me to go back, the kids were here by themselves — they were in college — I left the Saudi villa and returned to Beirut. She pours water into the glass; the glass fills up after the fifth or sixth “boom.” At night as usual, the Israeli war brains, uh… uh… warplanes go on bombing raids: Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.
We slept, we were at my in-laws’. Morning after, six o’clock, early, I steal out of the house, drive home to check things out. Go home…they bombed — at the door of the building the nei — the car of the neighbors upstairs, they’d left it and fled. They blew it up. They — uh — the hood of the car jumped from the street into my room, broke through the balcony, crashed into the chandelier. My chandlier inside used to have sixteen branches. Je ne sais combien de branches ont été cassées. Je les ai enlevées. It’s smaller now, used to be bigger — uh — the one that’s in the dining room. Je ne sais combien de branches étaient cassées. Tout le mur in shards, the ceiling in shards,
23 . Wahiat Allah: I swear to God. 24 . A term used to describe a wide variety of women’s house garments; in this context, it refers to the cloak women became obliged to wear in public in Saudi Arabia.
broken glass everywhere, the curtains scorched. ال حول وال قوة اال بالله.25 The — uh — my Venetian blinds, blasted off, the Venetian blinds. And there was no water! We lived out of my bedroom. Few days later, I get in the car, it’s covered in blood. “Rasheed!! Why is the car covered in blood?” Tells me, “A house by the Saudi Embassy got hit — there were dozens wounded, I started transferring the wounded to the hospital.” “Are you kidding me? The Red Cross are we? Bénévole? Back in the house, back in the house!” I picked him up and took him back home. From that moment on, whenever he left the house, I’d follow him, just stand there in the open wherever he was. And the warplanes, boom, boom, boom!! Just stand there in the open. “Mama, what are you doing?” “So long as you’re out of the house, I’m out of the house. I don’t sit around at home.” “And the war brai — the warplanes!” “The bombing? Not a thing. They strike you, they strike me… back home?” He nodded his head, “Yes, let’s go back home.” Back home, we sit around. When they raid us with bombs, we move to my bedroom… in my bedroom, Rasheed’s room on this side; the other building’s shielding us from the other side — a shield. On that side, Nawal’s room and the hallway shield us. This side, the stairs, the stairwell. يعنيc’était la seule chambre qui était isolée. يعنيmême pas des — eh — eh — choses... shards wouldn’t touch us. We sit around in my bedroom. We moved the TV to my bedroom, there’s electricity, we watch TV. No electricity — they’d screen films all day long, one after another, after another. We have electricity, we watch TV. No electricity, we sit around — uh… — play cards.
night, a convoy drives up, pauses for a minute, and then zooms off. Yassir Arafat was supposed to have a meeting there, so hours later she blew it up, razed it to the ground. She knew that Yassir Arafat had a meeting there in that very building that very night. The phone rings — Israel’s bombing!! She’s bombing!! يعنيon avait le repit qu’à partir de deux heures du matin. BOOMAH BOOM! يعنيwe couldn’t hear ourselves talk. Israel’s bombing, Khaled calls me: “Nehla, your husband’s coming tomorrow…” — it was Thursday — “… your husband…” — no, yes, no, Wednesday. It was Wednesday. “He’s coming tomorrow. He’s going to evacuate you from Beirut. Pack your bags.” “Huh? I can’t hear you, Khaled. Talk louder, I don’t know what you’re saying.” (Elongated, louder.) “Your husband is coming tomorrow. Why can’t you hear me?” “Israel… bombing.” “Are you nuts? You’re at home? Go to your in-laws’!” What, as if I can just step outside and stroll over to my in-laws’? (Laughs.) Who knows, I could be blown to pieces any given second. “You’re nuts. What are you doing?” “Playing cards. With the kids.” (Yelps.) “You’re nuts. Craziest person in the world. Israel’s bombing, and you’re on your ass playing cards?” So, what would you have me do? Israel’s bombing. What, weep? The bombings lulled, we packed the bags, Rashad came, took us to Syria. We dropped our bags off — I had packed Mama’s jewelry: the diamond earrings that used to be Dyuk Ana’s — a gift from Bey Baba — she gave them to Mama when she married Baba. And that necklace — en platine et diamant — also from Istanbul. Baba brought it back for Mama from Istanbul. We dropped the luggage off at Wafaa’s.
She wipes her hands from the pistachio residue and sips some water.
But entretemps, I pay a visit to Middle East — the Middle East Airlines office — send a cable to Rashad: “Come and get me out of this hell.”
Weeks later, when we returned from Saudi — we were in Saudi for a bit — they had bombed the Beirut airport. We flew to Damascus, picked up our bags from Wafaa, and drove to Beirut. بقىwe’re passing through Chtoura, and we hit a storm of gunfire. A bullet shoots through the roof of the car.
Israel’s dropping leaflets, dropping them from the warplanes: “Get out of Beirut. I’m going to bombard all Beirut.” Get out of Beirut, I’m going to bombard all Beirut. Get out of Beirut, I’m going to bombard all Beirut. “Ya Mama, Israel’s dropping leaflets: get out of Beirut,” Rasheed tells me. “She is, isn’t she? That’s how they drove out the Palestinians,” I say, “We don’t... We don’t make like the Palestinians.” And of course our neighborhood is home to who else but the Palestinian resistance! It was the neighborhood of the armed Palestinian resistance. Why else is Israel bombing us night and day? She knows. يعنيthe building across the street, one 25 . La hauleh wa la qouwet illa billah: God almighty.
“ !”ولي “Are you okay?” he said. “Fine.” “Kids, everyone okay back there?” “We’re fine.” “So why are you so scared?” I told him, “I’m fine, I’m okay.” FINE? OKAY? My purse, packed to the brim — stuffed, between my feet. Money, IDs, passports, Mama’s jewelry, everything.
.ال حول وال قوة اال بالله
We couldn’t wait to get home. We get to Beirut, I say to him, “I… ” Walk upstairs, open the front door, I find the place a wreck, a shambles: windows blasted, curtains scorched, uh… the… uh… what’s it called? Les volets outside, flung onto the street…the walls, the ceiling crumbling… uh… I tell you, a disaster zone. In the bedroom, the closets ransacked… uh… rubbish on the floor… the coiffeuse drawers emptied, upside down… my marriage contract in the kitchen… I tell you, disaster zone. I pick up a lamp, they cut the cord. I pick up another lamp, they cut the cord. Television gone, videocassette player. They stole — we had four televisions, one in my room, the kids each had one, and then a big one in the salon, a huge entertainment center… all gone. Vanished. If it had buttons you could push, they took it: gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone. I open the cabinet, the porcelain, just like I left it. No one had touched it. But what’d they steal? I had forgotten… cuff links, Rashad’s cuff links. He has them in gold and — uh — platine. It didn’t occur to me, I put them in the drawer, left them in the drawer. I open the drawer, “Yeee! They didn’t steal your cuff links!” Open the box, it’s empty. They took the cuff links, left us the box. They stole my boots. Two pairs, the brown and the bordeaux from Paris. One of the thugs, his wife, she also wears a size 7.5. They stole Nawal’s shorts. As for Rasheed, they didn’t leave him a single pair of underwear! No underwear, no t-shirts, no pants, no jeans, no espadrilles, no sweaters, no socks. His closet was emptied, through and through. I took a seat. I sat. I wept. “What is this mess? We can’t go on.” He says to me, Rashad says, “It’ll be okay… we have what money can’t buy.” I took my purse the next morning — the purse with Mama’s necklace and earrings from Istanbul — to my mother-in-law’s. I couldn’t go to the bank, they were all closed. She had a table, mosaic, Nawal inherited it, it’s in her house now. She lifted off the top, dropped my purse inside, and replaced it — couldn’t tell anything was inside. We went back home. Monday, Israel invades Beirut. I’m on the balcony, they’re coming in on those Merkavas… Merkabas… whatever they’re called. And you know? Palestinians are showing them the way. Their faces wrapped like this, they know every inch of every building in the neighborhood. Every building, they bring down the men from the houses, line them up on the trottoir, interrogate them. He’s clear, they let him go. If not, they duck him into a car and take him off who knows where.
! وليRasheed, I was scared to death for Rasheed. I stepped up onto the balustrade,
and that thing of theirs passed below me: “Go, go, go, go, go! It’s all yours!!!” Rasheed says to me, “Get back inside, you’re making a scene!” He’s always afraid of making a scene, of causing trouble.
“You, stay inside. No one can know I have a son.”
واللهthey combed our building from top to bottom. They took the boys upstairs —
they were all refugees from the South — they took the boys upstairs — and upstairs — يعنيthird, fourth, seventh floors — they took the boys from the building, never knocked on our door, not once. Not a second later, my mother-in-law phones: “ !الله يخلّيكي26 Come over here now!” “What happened?” “Uh — the Israelis broke into the neighbors’. They’re ransacking the neighbors’” — just like they did to me — “They’re ransacking the neighbors’, but — uh — I’m afraid they’ll come in here next — your jewelry, your money, it’s all here.” “We’re on our way.” What, was I about to let an Israeli soldier steal Mama’s jewelry, a gift for his wife? It was me and Nawal in the car. We saw an Israeli standing at the foot of the hill. (Addressing Nawal) “Leave the car. We’re going to walk.” We’re walking, there’s an Israeli at the front door. We don’t look at him. He says, “Good morning.” We didn’t look at him. We go upstairs to my mother-in-law’s apartment. “Did they come in?” “No, not yet. They’re still inside.” We sat for a bit, I took my purse, threw it onto my shoulder, and left. We went downstairs, not a word from the Israelis. We passed in front of the — uh — Israeli soldier, not a word. We walked down the hill, stepped into the car, not a word. Nawal a démarré: pzzzz! We took the corniche, past Raouché. واللهan Israeli pulled us aside at Dbaibo… at Raouche. The place is gorgeous but only at night, too much sun during the day. There, at Dbaibo, on the corner, like that. We stopped the car. “May we help you?” What does he come out with, “May I have a picture with you?” I told him, “Non.” “Thank you.” We drove along. At Ramlet al Beydah — another checkpoint — also Israeli. We pulled aside. “May I have a picture with you? Nawal says to him, “NON.” (Laughs.) We get back home, took the purse out of the car, brought it inside. I took my pillow (Laughs.) — stuff it under my pillow (Laughs.) — and sleep on it! So, Rashad moved to Greece with Gulf Air, and Nawal went to Greece with her husband. It was me and Rasheed at home. Sabra and Shatila came and went; Jumblatt and Hizbullah had at it; the Syrians invaded — Rasheed had just finished school. I packed up the bags and told him: “To Damascus.” 26. Allah yekhalleeki: For God’s sake
“But Mama!! You’re giving in, we’ll stick it out… ” “To Damascus! You’re coming with me.” “What about our home?” I tell him, “Mama, I won’t stick it out for some chairs and a couch. انشا اللهI’ll never see them again. The first ones were stolen, we bought new ones. These ones will be stolen, we’ll buy new ones. I am not for a second going to stick it out for some chairs and a couch. You’re done, your sister’s done, she’s in Greece, your father’s in Greece, we’re moving to Greece.” I took him with me to Damascus. We spent a night in Damascus, next morning boarded a plane to Greece. That was it. I never went back to Beirut. C’était la fin. Je ne suis plus revenue à Beirut. يعنيpour huit ans de suite je n’ai pas vu Beirut. On a passé cinq ans à Athènes, deux ans — trois ans — eh — à Amman. C’était les plus belles années. Des années de vacances complètes. Nawal s’est mariée; elle a eu Amal. Amal était ma plus grande distraction. J’ai eu — eh — eh — le temps en dehors de la guerre, je les ai passées en Grèce. Et fa — Rasheed a commencé à faire du travail, بسle jour où les deux ont quitté en — eh — en un mois.
— يعنيuh — Nawal est allée à Jeddah. Et Rasheed a été à Abu Dhabi. La maison était complètement vide. Silence.
Parce que j’avais toujours des gens à la maison. Rasheed, ses amis, Nawal, ses amies, Rasheed — every single refugee working in Greece, they’d fled the war, Rasheed would bring them back home. Round the clock, people coming, people going, the house was full. And I’d — cooking… cakes… running around all the time. And now what? Je n’ai plus même — pas la patience de faire des gâteaux. Je n’ai même pas la patience de faire la cuisine. Je ne peux même pas voir la cuisine — I’m blind as a bat. How am I supposed to cook? Back then, I was always busy, people, food, hosting, talking, coffee. All of a sudden, all at once: poof.
... … العمى
The day is long. I got fat. Silence as she continues eating pistachios through the blackout.
PATRICIA SARrafian Ward Interviewed by Rima Rantisi
Patricia Sarrafian Ward’s work has always been colored by her experience of war in Lebanon and the consequent breaking away from the country at eighteen years old. First known for her novel, The Bullet Collection (2003), she has now moved into the world of artist books, which you can spy below. Her latest are part of the Al-Mutannabi Street Coalition Project, which is a response to the 2007 destruction of Baghdad’s historical center of bookselling and culture, Al-Mutannabi Street. This interview was conducted by e-mail in the final days of winter, 2013. 1. What was your introduction into writing? I have been writing ever since I can remember. My earliest stories were written in many-colored crayons and usually involved the violent death of a heroine, or at least a lot of torment. I kept writing through the years, and when I went to college in the U.S. discovered one could actually take classes in writing. These helped give shape to the torrents of words that had been pouring out of me for years. In fact, I started what would eventually become my novel, The Bullet Collection, in my first writing workshop. 2. How many years ago and at what age did you leave Beirut? How did growing up there shape your life? I left Beirut a little over 26 years ago, a few days before my 18th birthday — March 8, 1987. The date is burned into my memory. We left via a boat from Jounieh to Cyprus. I will never forget the light winking on and off in Maamaltain, which was my uncle wishing us farewell. It was agonizing. We had to leave because my dad, who was American, had been forced to flee several months earlier due to all the kidnappings. We left in order to join him. It is perhaps a little misleading to say that is when I left; rather, that is when I left for good. Before that, I spent two years at a high school in Rome. Of course, Beirut was still home, I was there during breaks and summers. But when we pulled away on the boat that day in 1987, that was when Beirut was irrevocably transformed into a place no longer my home. This is why, even though I had clamored to leave Lebanon (I was bored, I wanted to go back to Rome, etc.), when the moment came, I felt this tremendous agony and regret. I realized something monumental was
happening, and indeed it was many, many years before I was able to reach some kind of peace with that loss. In a way, this departure answers how growing up in Beirut shaped my life. It created a window through which I was constantly looking backwards across the sea towards the dark shape of the mountains against the sky and the sad winking lights. Perhaps had we stayed, there would have been more continuity to my life; maybe the memories would have been, therefore, less acute. I don’t know for sure. What I mean to say is, growing up in Beirut took on a significance for me that was perhaps enlarged by this severing of time and place, and by the totally shocking experience of being thrust into American culture. My childhood “abroad” deeply affected my view of the world living here in the U.S. And of course, it infused all my creative work and continues to do so; I find myself ever-returning to themes of war, displacement, emigration, and nostalgia, both as a writer and as a book artist. Another way in which childhood has shaped my life is that I have wrestled for years and years with one profound dilemma—that of where do I belong. Growing up, I felt a disconnect between my American appearance and my deep sense of Lebanese nationality. The disconnect altered, and in a way deepened, when I moved here, where everyone takes me for American and yet inside I feel not-American, and now after all these years, not-Lebanese, too. It took what feels like forever (pretty much 26 years!) to finally feel comfortable where I am—to feel it’s O.K. I am here, not in Beirut, not in Rome. I am trying to stop dividing the earth into segments and to stop regarding one as superior to the other. I made an artist book recently called The Same One Place that explores through image and text the differences and intersections between Beirut and Maynard, MA, where I now live. In this little book, I write “the earth does not care where we are.” The notion arrived when one day, my obsession with where I belong struck me as so puny and bizarre compared to the grand scale of the planet, which has zero interest in my dilemma. This was a breakthrough for me. Yes, every now and then I wake up from a particularly sharp dream of long-ago places, and nostalgia slips into the room and seizes me in its crushing, suffocating embrace. But I accept the feeling now, and in a way I can enjoy it—because it is as if I have actually time-traveled, and what a treat that is! War Dreams [detail]
3. Much of your work reflects your experience with war. What human experiences during wartime have most occupied your thinking? I think I will turn to my writings and artist books to answer that question, because I have of course thought about a whole lot of stuff, but what is most deep-rooted and constant in terms of how I was personally affected comes out in the work. Across the spectrum of my creative works there are the enduring themes of isolation and solitude, of outside world versus inside world, and of the threat of outside coming in. This is in keeping with my experience: as a child, you are indoors, you are sheltered and shielded. You look out windows and wait, you do not take action yourself. You
are in the perpetual role of potential victim, scared something will fall out of the sky and kill you, or that soldiers will tromp up the stairs and bash down the door and pour into the safe space of your home. Everything is about being contained within, while surrounded by an outward world that is frightening and incomprehensible and could destroy everything. The paintings my friend Zeina Barakeh did for my novel jacket depict a child looking out the window, which was a dominant theme in The Bullet Collection. One day as I considered the painting, I realized that there is a profound connection between the themes that infused my writing and what I do now in book arts. Most of my artist books consist of tiny scenes, often tunnel-shaped, where you have to peek in. So the physical placement I associate the most with my childhood, that of standing in a window, partially hidden by a curtain, peeking outward, is now being repeated in the inverse. For example, in the case of NOSTALGIA, as with most of my books, you have to tilt your gaze this way and that, and of course it is the same when you’re making it. This book opens up its doors to reveal the lost childhood homes in the mountains. There are also tiny images on the back showing the homes after they were destroyed. You have to turn the book and find them. There is something indirect about it, just as the experience itself, in my childhood, was indirect, that of witness not participant. I think the window also serves as a kind of buffer. I do not look head on at this part of my life, but with care, with not everything visible at once. In this way it is a kind of protection, the window set in a wall, the wall shielding me. And this makes sense because sometimes when I catch a news segment about some war on the other side of the world, I will literally collapse in tears, having been caught unguarded, with no buffer.
4. How have your themes evolved over the years? Well, it would seem they haven’t evolved much at all! 5. Some people find it gives them clearer perspective to write about a place when they are away from it. Do you agree? Possibly. I don’t think I could have ever written The Bullet Collection without that experience of being torn away from home. However, I’d have had a continuing and deepening understanding of place (Beirut) had I stayed. The book I might have written would have been a different one, for sure. Not so much more clear, but clear in different ways. 6. At AUB, in Introduction to Creative Writing, my students read your story, “The History,” and they are often stumped as to why Lara has left Raymond at the Green Line to be killed. What’s your explanation? If you were to rewrite the ending today, would it be different? Nostalgia [3.5” x 2.75” x 1.5”]
I recall some line in a writing workshop way back that events in stories should be “inevitable but surprising.” It seems this one is only surprising... But, that said, their reaction makes sense to me. When I wrote this story, I never really saw Lara’s action as “real.” “The History” is very much a story in that sense, it is not meant to be a literal mirror of reality. Her action is an expression of the utter isolation of living a war, being part of war, to the point where she becomes like an extension of the war — and then being confronted with this innocence and ignorance that dwells so far outside the reality of your experience, and is peering in like a scientist looking at bugs. Raymond represents the colonizer, coming in to write the history of a land that he thinks is his, but simply is not. Her action is, So you want this place? Here, have it. It will destroy you. I also wrote, of course, on an emotional level — and what I felt was she is driven over the edge by the sight of him with Lulwa, and more pointedly, by his shabby treatment of her the next morning. She is finally protecting her little sister — the way she wasn’t able to during the shrapnel incident.
Remember II [detail]
That this emotion doesn’t fully emerge for readers to feel her action is believable (inevitable) perhaps reflects my preoccupation with trying to convey ideas (identity, history, colonization, etc) and thus dropping the ball on character. It makes for a good lesson for beginning writers, for sure. Do you want to write an “idea story” or a “heart story,” is how I’d ask it. In the end, heart stories are always stronger, in my view. This one ended up as a mixture, I suppose.
7. What is your advice to novice writers and artists when they ask, “How do I find a focus”? If you mean what their subject matter should be, I am not sure. I always had ideas and emotions pushing at me, pressing to be let out. But maybe this will help. I saw an incredible Yeats exhibit in Dublin last April. There was a questionnaire on display, something that had been sent to him by a researcher trying to quantify creativity. One of the inquiries was: “Passive attitude of waiting for ‘inspiration’?” And Yeats wrote in capitals: “NEVER.” So first and foremost, it takes work — yes, there will be some times when the writing just pours out, already perfect, no doubt. But most of the time that’s not the case. And so if you’re going to be doing all that work, then what you’re writing better really matter, and it has to matter to you. Because if it doesn’t, you’ll quit, or else write something mediocre, because who wants to labor so intensely over something unimportant? There are a bazillion things in the world screaming to be written about at any given moment — but unless that story or idea is screaming right at you (or from within you, better yet), then chances are you will hit a wall. So finding focus isn’t about looking around and asking, “What should I write about?” It is about
Remember II [4.25” x 3.25” x 1.75” (closed)]
asking, “What do I need to write about?” You have to have a genuine story to tell. It could be about a tiny moment between two people on a quiet afternoon, or it could be about a revolution, it doesn’t matter — so long as it is genuinely important to you. There is a book that I think every writer/artist should read called If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. If a young writer is struggling with what to write, with finding focus and theme, then this is a brilliant book to have on hand. 8. You have transitioned into making artist books — what inspired this? Getting pregnant! I had finished a novel (not published), and as my belly grew and grew, it struck me that once the baby popped into the world, I probably wouldn’t have the emotional or mental capacity to take on novel-writing. So I turned to what had been a fascination of mine for some time, making teeny-weeny dioramas. This was particularly challenging since I had pregnant sausage fingers, but I managed. From there, things took off. 9. Please tell us more about the history of the genre as well as your own history with it. I am not qualified to speak on the history of the genre. I do know that while decorated manuscripts, broadsides, zines, and so forth have been around for a while, as a recognizable visual arts field (i.e., degrees in book arts, shows dedicated to book arts, and so on), it’s relatively new, and actually growing exponentially. I wasn’t aware of this when I started out; I was just following an old impulse that I’d never allowed myself to take the time to explore. I have always been drawn to books with images, such as illuminated manuscripts. I find modern books with their endless lines of unbroken text kind of painful to look at. That is where I was coming from. I started with dioramas that had no words. In fact, I had a lot of trouble inserting text into these projects. I didn’t know how to make them fit, I suppose. Many of these earlier books have no text at all. Then I started experimenting. It was a process of re-training my mind and hand, not to blather on and on — the habit of the novelist. Gradually I became able to distill my language, and to start to create more profound interplay between text and image. 10. What gaps in purpose do the physical art images fill that writing cannot? I think in some ways I get closer to the subject matter through image. It can be a more visceral experience, more direct — especially when I am working with images from my own past, as in the books displayed here. I don’t think it’s so much that a gap is filled; it’s more that the layering goes deeper.
II. Maynard MA, USA
11. Do you consider yourself a writer today or a visual artist? Or is there a term for the combination? I refer to myself now as a “writer and book artist.” For me they go hand in hand. The past few years I have been working on and off on a novel I started many years ago. I recently set it aside because of book arts shows coming up. I will go back to it next winter, probably. I have found that for me this is a balance I have needed for a very long time. I no longer become insanely frustrated if my writing isn’t coming together — I just go to the studio and do something else. I’m really lucky to be able to do that.
or in the studio a lot, so as not to overload. But I do know of some writers who are coming out with new books soon, and they are incredibly talented — Randa Jarrar and Fadia Faqir. I also love Ibtisam Barakat. In terms of book artists, I am just getting to know names and faces. You can find a tremendously talented group via the al Mutanabbi project at al-mutanabbistreetstartshere-boston.com. This is a really amazing project, I am so proud to be part of it, and I wish we could find a way to bring the exhibit to Beirut!
12. What can you share about your current novel? Experience has taught me over the years not to talk about novels in progress, or they lose their vitality. Sorry!! 13. Who are your greatest influences as an artist? That is a question I was never able to answer when I was being asked as a writer, and I find myself in the same quandary now. I think “influence” is so subtle, and constantly changing. Whatever I end up creating represents thousands of minute influences from every part of life, from the most mundane to the most poetic. 14. What are you reading now? I just finished An Open Life, a series of conversations that took place over many years between Joseph Campbell and a radio show host in CA. I also just read this little book called Meditations by a former monk called Thomas Moore. (I thought I was borrowing a book by the Thomas More, and I got so confused at first.) He writes of the intersections between monk-life and secular life in a truly fascinating way. I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I do like detective novels and I’ll probably set about trying to find a new series — really good literary ones are hard to find, unfortunately. But they’re out there! I’ll also investigate the new graphic novels next time I get to the library. I really love these. Some months ago I read Zahra’s Paradise. That was amazing. I read several others at the same time whose titles I can’t remember. I was so fired up I ordered the Walking Dead Compendium, because I’d liked Season I of the show, but that was incredibly disappointing, and caused me to stop watching the show altogether. 15. Can you recommend any contemporary writers or artists to look out for? Generally I am really terrible at keeping up with new writing. I just read what I find in the library when I’m wandering around. I often pass through phases where I don’t read much at all. It’s a way to hit the Off-button when I am writing intensely, I. Beirut, Lebanon
Contributors Sandy Abdallah is not what she appears to be but will one day shed the layers that were forced onto her only to redress herself with the patterns of her own design. That is her life’s endeavor. Jim Pascual Agustin’s most recent books are all published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House in Manila, the Philippines: Alien to Any Skin (2011), Baha-bahagdang Karupukan (2011), Sound Before Water (2013), and Kalmot ng Pusa sa Tagiliran (2013). He left his hometown of Marikina in October 1994, not knowing it would change the course of his life forever. He has since lived in Cape Town, South Africa with his wife and twin daughters. He blogs at matangmanok.wordpress.com. Reef H. Al-Amine was born and raised in Beirut. She is an avid reader of fiction & fantasy and an occasional music & film blogger. She has worked on collaborative writing efforts including poetry, fiction and a screenplay adaptation. An AUB graduate with a BA in English literature, she lives in Beirut, Lebanon with her cat Lily. Doyle Avant On New Years Eve 2010 — just a few minutes before midnight — Doyle Avant was discovered wandering along the Beirut Corniche with 67 Algerian dinars, an expired Mexican driver’s license, and no memory of how he got there. Since then a few random details have emerged. The son of an embassy worker, Doyle was born in Saigon and was later airlifted out during the April 1975 evacuation. Nothing is known of the following years until 1987, when he was drafted in the third round by the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. Unwilling to live in Sacramento, he began waiting tables by day and doing solo theater art by night. In early 1989, he boarded a Tan Sahsa flight to El Salvador, which was then in the throes of a decade long civil war. At this point, the trail goes cold. Recently there have been unconfirmed sightings of Doyle teaching creative writing at AUB. Anything is possible. Boushra Batlouni is tall. She ate those funky magical beans when she was a child, but they were just beans. She willed herself to be tall, and it worked. She spends her time procrastinating, even though she was advised by a close friend that it brings ticks to her hands and neck. One day, she plans to be productive, and perhaps make something of her writing. Until then, she scratches. Emily Bludworth de Barrios is an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her poems have recently appeared in (or will soon appear in) B O D Y, Matter, Clinic Presents, The Found Poetry Review, Philadelphia Stories, and Emrys Journal. Her chapbook, Extraordinary Power, is forthcoming from Factory Hollow Press in fall 2013. Find her online at emilybludworthdebarrios.tumblr.com. Rewa El-Jarrah is a psychology student at the American University of Beirut. Feeling like she was born out of place, she still struggles to find the truth through her writing and her art. Tamara Fakhoury is an aspiring artist with a BA in philosophy from AUB. She will be pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill this fall. Tamara uses her art as therapy. She paints to understand what she feels. Each piece fixes a spontaneous moment of simultaneous self-reflection and self-realization in one image. She also really enjoys painting the philosophers she studies. You can view more of her artwork on her Facebook page “Art by Tamara Fakhoury.” Yanita Georgieva is an eighteen-year-old Bulgarian with a passion for people, places and food. Her hobbies include CapsLocking her way into friendships, talking too much and watching 500 Days of Summer an unhealthy number of times.
Marilyn Hacker’s twelve books of poems include Names (Norton, 2010) and Essays on Departure (Carcanet Press, UK 2006). Among her translations from the French are Rachida Madani’s Tales of a Severed Head (Yale, 2012) and Amina Saïd’s The Present Tense of the World (Black Widow Press, 2011). She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Norbert Hirschhorn is a public health physician, commended by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” He lives in London and Beirut. He has published four full collections, several pamphlets and has poetry in numerous US/UK publications. See bertzpoet.com. Crystal Hoffman’s poetry has been published, or is forthcoming, in journals such as Whiskey Island, WomenArts Quarterly, Pank, and Strange Horizons. Her first chapbook Sulfur Water is available from Hyacinth Girl Press. You can read about her cross-country walk at poetrypilgrim.com. She is co-founder of Rusted Radishes. Dalia Hosn From a young age, Dalia Hosn has escaped into the world of words where between the first and last page, anything is possible. Exploring these possibilities is what she would like to spend her life doing. She studied English Literature at the American University of Beirut and will be attending a Creative Writing course at Oxford. She is thankful to you for reading her story; it’s a dream come true. Eyad Houssami writes about and makes theatre, and he is the founder of Masrah Ensemble, a nonprofit theatre company and organization in Lebanon. He is editor of English and Arabic editions of Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre (Pluto Press, Dar Al Adab 2012) and has directed the eponymous international theatre series, presented in Lebanon, United States, and soon in The Netherlands. He is also managing editor of Portal 9: Stories and Critical Writing about the City, an Arabic-English cultural journal published in Beirut. He is the recipient of Rotary, Fulbright, Prince Claus Fund, and Young Arab Theatre Fund grants. He studied theatre at Yale. Diana Itawi Drawing and painting have always been a passion of Diana Itawi’s since she was a kid. With time, she managed to train her hands and eyes to draw what she sees. However, once she got into AUB and with the help of her instructors, she learned that everything has a hidden composition and that figuring out the relationship between elements would help her better shape her designs and illustrations. Mayssa Jallad is an architect recently graduated from the American University of Beirut. Her final year project was entitled “Concrete Therapy: Maria and the St George.” She is also the singer-songwriter of the band Safar. Alice Kezhaya is an English Literature major at AUB, minoring in Social and Political Thought. She is Lebanese-American, born and raised in Texas. She writes fiction and poetry, and she enjoys looking at pictures of cats. Vénus Khoury-Ghata Lebanese poet and novelist, long-time Paris resident Vénus Khoury-Ghata is the author of eighteen novels, including Une Maison Aux Bord Des Larmes, La Maestra, Le Facteur des Arbruzzes, and sixteen collections of poems, most recently Où Vont Les Arbrex (Mercure de France, 2011). Four collections of her poems and one novel are available in English in Marilyn Hacker’s translation, inculding Alphabets of Sand (Carcanet Press, 2008) and Nettles (Graywolf Press, 2008). Recipient of the Académie Française prize in poetry in 2009, she was named an Officer of the Légion d’honneur the following year. She received the Prix Goncourt de poésie in 2011. Mike Kobi practices photography as a hobby, yet possesses the professional knowledge to carry it out. It is truly his passion, and an outlet for expression as he really puts his soul into his work. He is interested in all genres of photography, but mainly loves photographs that show reflection and shots that capture people or animals in their natural conditions or state.
Lee Gould teaches poetry at Bard College’s Lifetime Learning Institute. She leads poetry workshops and curates ArtsWalk Literary, an annual writing festival that takes place in Hudson, New York. Her poems, essays and reviews appear or are forthcoming in: Blithe Spirit, Bridges, Magma, Quarterly West, The Berkshire Review, Gay and Lesbian Review, Chronogram, Women and Environments, Passager and others; and in anthologies Burning Bright, Still Against War and Women Writers of the Hudson Valley. Her chapbook of poems, Weeds, appeared in 2010 from Finishing Line Press.
Tara Mahfoud studied anthropology, sociology and American studies at AUB, then anthropology at the University of London. She likes to read until her eyes twitch and write until her fingers cramp.
Brooke Grasberger is a freelance writer and editor who moved to Beirut in the fall of 2012, after graduating college in the States and wanting to continue her studies in Arabic.
Jonathan Malek graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor Degree towards Graphic Design in Fine Arts; receiving the Dean’s Creative Achievement Award. While at university, he spent four semesters
assisting Professor Daniel Drennan in illustration class. Since early 2009, he has been working as a freelancer in the fields of design and illustration for organizations such as Plan-A and World Vision. Fouad Mezher spent four years of his life acquiring a graphic design degree then proceeded not to use it. He now spends his time drawing monsters and death-related things. His current projects include a horror comic in which lots of people die. Lina Mounzer is a fiction and screenwriter based between Beirut and Budapest. She blogs occasionally at warghetti.wordpress.com. Hussein Nassereddine is a third year graphic design student at the American University of Beirut. He is mainly interested in Arabic poetry and tries to express this poetic feeling through graphic design, visual art and movie-making projects. Amanda Nowyhed is a graphic designer and AUB graduate with a strong interest in illustration and animation. Her work can be found at amandanowyhed.com. Rima Rantisi is an Instructor of English at the American University of Beirut. She is co-founder of Rusted Radishes and current editor. You can find some of her writing at crosseyedrevolutions.com. J. Rechdan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with minors in Cognitive Science and Creative Writing from AUB in 2009. Too craven to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing, she instead completed her MPhil in Social and Developmental Psychology at the University of Cambridge in 2011. She currently teaches Introductory Psychology, and is contemplating pursuing a PhD… or submitting to her reclusive nature and disappearing into the mountains over Byblos to write. Saba Sadr is a fine arts student who enjoys painting, sketching and sculpting, and enjoys it more in the company of others. Her work can be found at saba-the-amateur.deviantart.com. Janan Scott was born in Nicosia, Cyprus in 1990 to a Lebanese mother and American father. She is happiest when among the trees and particularly enjoys making lentil soup and eating salad. She believes that spending time upside down is rejuvenating; she knows that family is precious, friendship is rare, and that poems live in all of us. She currently makes her home in Northampton, Massachusetts. Ghada Seifeddine is not, and she repeats, is not this generation’s Shakespeare. She is an English language junior at the American University of Beirut. She is fulfilling her creative writing minor as well, and her wish list of the person she wants to be is unlimited: writer, professor, public speaker, social activist… you name it! She has never travelled outside Lebanon; however, she has wandered in mind to all sorts of (preferably surreal) places, and she made sure to write those down on paper. Patricia Sarrafian Ward was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, moving to the U.S. when she was eighteen. In addition to numerous journal publications and awards, her novel The Bullet Collection was published in 2003 and received the GLCA New Writers Award, the Anahid Literary Award and the Hala Maksoud Award for Outstanding Emerging Writers. In recent years, Ward has turned to book arts, making miniature books and dioramas exploring themes of wartime experience, depression, and the creative process that have been exhibited in numerous shows in the Boston area. Her installation “Re/Vision,” composed of book-objects made from the shreds of an unfinished novel, appeared in a solo show at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, MA, and was a Featured Artist Project at the Center for Book Arts in NYC in 2012. Ward lives outside of Boston with her husband and child. Rami Zurayk is a professor of landscape and environment at AUB. He has been writing since the age of three but it took him nearly fifty years to get published. His most recent book Food, Farming and Freedom was published by Just World Books. He enjoys outdoor life and indoor gyms.
On the Cover “Paris: Day 58” by Omar Khouri is part of a sequence of sixty-one daily self-portraits documenting his life during an artist residency in Paris that spanned February and March of 2013. On that day, he decided to visit an area of the city where twenty years ago, in 1993, he spent a summer with two of his best friends. He was fifteen and it was there that he decided he wanted to draw. “Paris: Day 58” is a space/time fracture, an incantation, an attempt at connecting with his former self using the magical significance of this area as a bridge. He thinks he heard him. To see the rest of the project, please visit tareqelkhurafi.wordpress.com.
The Carton is a print publication about food culture and the Middle East facebook.com /thecartonquarterly
Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org www.artandthensome.com
Contributors Sandy Abdallah Jim Pascual Agustin Reef H. Al-Amine Doyle Avant Boushra Batlouni Emily Bludworth de Barrios Rewa El-Jarrah Tamara Fakhoury Yanita Georgieva Lee Gould Brooke Grasberger Marilyn Hacker Norbert Hirschhorn Crystal Hoffman Dalia Hosn Eyad Houssami Diana Itawi Mayssa Jallad Alice Kezhaya VĂŠnus Khoury-Ghata Mike Kobi Tara Mahfoud Jonathan Malek Fouad Mezher Lina Mounzer Hussein Nassereddine Amanda Nowyhed Rima Rantisi Janan Scott J. Rechdan Saba Sadr Ghada Seifeddine Patricia Sarrafian Ward Rami Zurayk
Rusted Radishes: Beirut Literary and Art Journal features exclusive works from a diverse collection of emerging and established writers and artists whose colorful pieces form a striking collage of fluid symbols from the Lebanese-related psyche in poetry, prose, drama, and art. Housed in the American University of Beirut's English Department, RR is edited and designed by a staff of faculty and students from the Departments of English and Architecture and Design. RR presents the best of student and faculty writing and art at AUB as well as of writers and artists from a broad, even international, scope who have a tangible connection to Lebanon. It defines its base as a Beirut publication in hopes of nurturing an evolving creative community that is equally willing to teach, learn, praise, and critique. Please see inside for submission and contact information if you would like to join in this mission.
Published in 2013, this is the second issue of Beirut's only English-language literary and art journal, featuring writing by Marilyn Hacker,...
Published on Mar 10, 2015
Published in 2013, this is the second issue of Beirut's only English-language literary and art journal, featuring writing by Marilyn Hacker,...