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26 Jul

In my travels I have seen some incredible displays of war of barely just the previous generation. On one level they are lurid reminders of the sadness and tragedy (on all sides). When I asked around in these places (Vietnam, Lebanon, Dublin) why these pock marks on an otherwise pretty landscape have not been torn down or made into money-generating museums the people shared with me another side: they are reminders for peace. And my ah-ha moment came slowly, humbly.

I long for the day when I will visit Afghanistan and see the smiling faces of the people, sharing life around a table of mint tea and dolma.

The Holiday Inn, Beirut: Shot up after six weeks of being opening in 1975, adjacent to a modern high rise and now part of the background. Check out the holes along the right side.

The Gerneral Post Office, Dublin: the pillars bear the bullet marks from the Easter Rising, 1916

This poem compares these monsterous and beautiful monuments to titans: goddesses who were once beautiful but now are stone and ash, reminders of the battle.


“Over the past few years, the road to confrontation has shown its consequences: loss of innocent lives, destruction and fear. Most costly, however, was the loss of hope.” – King Abdullah II

She rose into the clouds
Towering over the city
Grey and scaled, each story
A rib of the underbelly.

Once welcoming onlookers
The handcrafted guarded goddess
Lulled the seascape with newness –
But that was some time ago.

She was silent: watching,
Waiting. Skin cracked, crumbling
Into pieces, her frame
Bearing wounds and ravaged

From whatever war it was.
There were no bodies left
Now, no blood, no stains but
Those great cenotaph scars.

This mother beast:
A Gorgon, turned to stone
And standing; a monument
Terrifying and alluring.

There are so many:
Beirut, Da Nang, Dublin.
Some are still, quiet;
Some alive and telling.

They protest the erosion
Of fated, forgetful minds
For whatever war it is.
For whoever lays down

Their lives and we pray:
Help us to look and see,
To hear and echo peace
Though we lie in pieces.



Featured Poet: James Clayton

28 Apr

This week is the FINAL Lessons from Lebanon poem and I’ve saved a real treat for the finale. This is a featured poem by never before published James Clayton AND a featured video by Greg Doutre. Did I just hear a wow? I know!

This week the final lesson is the reality of war. We met many people in Lebanon who experiences the reality of civil war. One man told us about the civil war when his now grown children were small witnessing their fears as war raged on all around them. I cannot imagine the desperate thoughts and sense of vulnerability I might experience protecting a young family and for many, many people around the world today this is a reality. My heart goes out to those who do not live in safe places today.



Thank you to James Clayton for your poignant words and Greg Doutre for your moving photography in the video!

If you are a writer and think you have what it takes to be featured here, please send an email with a poem and a brief explanation to me:

Follow me for next week’s poem  – insha’Allah!

Their War

It’s not academic, it’s not interest;

They know it. They have felt it.

They were there.

As the bombs fell, the blast

It lit up the faces of their crying children.

As the tanks rolled in,

The plates shook out of their cupboards.

A bullet is not just a bullet if it flies

Past your window.

War, it used to interest me,

Dare to say even excite me,

But now I grimace, it’s just so


Lessons from Lebanon: The Grand Mother

20 Apr

View from our homestay, Lebanon

Third of the Lessons from Lebanon series, this poem is about one person who impacted me maybe the most during my time in the land of hummus and labna mmm… Ahem, um, yes so we stayed with a family six miles’ walk away from civilization in any direction. It was an awesome hike getting there and when we finally did, we stayed with a small family in one of the valleys. The house was made up of four rooms build right into the mountain side: a kitchen, living area and two small rooms, plus an outhouse.

The grandmother of the family was amazing. I do think all grandmothers are quite special and this one was pretty amazing. Imagine a small – I’m talking 4 feet – woman with no teeth, bandana round her grey hair, face all scrunched up with wrinkles, large belly, hands so calloused she took a pan straight out of the oven with no gloves. NO GLOVES! That is awesome.

P.S. Next week is the final Lessons of Lebanon series and it’s a featured poet! Also I’ll be featuring a video as well so be sure to follow me!

The Grand Mother

We travelled six hours by foot to the glorious Qadisha Valley
to stay the night with a young family and watch the stars.
Beautiful, the view from the hermit’s cave;
Delicious fresh salted goat’s yoghurt from Paradises
and all those shimmering olive trees.

When all we had were smiles to understand each other,
I watched for a long time the grandmother who
would speak to me for long moments in Arabic
in a tone of assured agreement. I watched the lines
on her face from pure mountain life (no distractions).

I watched her pull a hot pan from the oven bare handed.
I, wide eyed, could not comprehend the wisdom she must
possess from bearing children with only the comfort
of age old advice passed down. How I longed
to have such wisdom shared with me.

And we smile at each other and she touches my arm
And she is strong and gentle yet fierce
and in that moment where we mirror
a small gesture of kindness,
we understand something of the other.

We have many lessons to learn from them.

Lessons from Lebanon: The Green Line

11 Apr

The second of a handful of poems in the Lessons from Lebanon series, this one came by surprise – the best poems do – in downtown Beirut. We were walking along the famous Civil War boundary when a security guard stopped us for a friendly chat. I’m not going to lie, I was a little intimidated… until he started showing us pictures and smiling a lot. 

We were standing just in front of this massive cinema, irreconcilably one of the most startling reminders in the immediate area of the war.

Lebanese Civil War, Cinema, Green Line

According to Wikipedia, the Green Line is: “a line of demarcation in Beirut, Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990. It separated the mainly Muslim factions in West Beirut from the Christian Lebanese Front in East Beirut. The appellation refers to the coloration of the foliage that grew because the space was uninhabited.”

Just what this poem is about.

The Green Line

There is a man who stands along the Green Line,

Security guard on the cinema side –

The theatre wrenched open splaying grey

 And thirty years of decay.

Juxtaposed with the beautiful blue topped

Mosque next door or the white

Of the churches down the road.

With a wave he invited us to hear

The story of civil war on the space I stood

Just one generation before.

He tells me through yellowing teeth

From many cups of sweet coffee

And with a smile, his story (with pictures).

And gazing behind him,

In the open innards of the edifice

With its metal skeleton bare

And its guts amiss

I see unfurled a single arm of green ivy

From somewhere deep within

Reaching up, up to the sky.

Lessons from Lebanon: Strangers

31 Mar

This week’s poem is the first of half-a-dozen in a collection entitled “Lessons from Lebanon”. There were so many fantastic experiences and surprises that I encountered there. This was one – totally unexpected – and we went with it. 

If you have travelled to the Middle East you will know of their unabashed welcoming of strangers. Typical conversations go as follows:

Lebanese: Where from?

Tourist (me): (caught off guard) …uh… (hmm… should I say America or England? England, definitely England.) America. (Drat!)

Lebanese: Welcome, welcome!

Tourist: (relieved) Thank you! I love Lebanon! (Ok, don’t go OTT.)

I just hope I can help others feel more welcome too, wherever I am in the world.


Wandering the Byblos markets, I saw a man

enjoying the sunshine and his za’atar meal

of thin freshly baked thyme seasoned bread

and shouting a greeting, thrust a torn wedge

in my direction. He would not take no for an answer.


So good, it could not be missed: the sharing:

their community, their looking out, their senses.

I left with the taste of welcome warm

salt in my mouth and a question in my mind:

when did I last share my meal with a stranger?

Qadisha’s Thousand Gifts

25 Mar

As many of you know by now I spent a glorious week in Lebanon last month that inspired much of my recent writing. One poem I have gone back to numerous times to edit and add in details was the two-day hike I did in the Qadisha Valley. We were six miles’ hike from civilisation in any direction and stayed with a family who did not speak any English. We visited one of the last known hermits in the world. The electricity cut out between 6pm and 10pm and the stars, they were just incredible. “Amazing” simply cannot give it justice.

Photos below and poem after!

Sharing a drink with the locals

Fresh salted goat's yoghurt

Under the sun

Writing the poem "Olive Trees"

Where's Waldo? Trying to find the homestay we were hiking toward was a challenge!

Top of our homestay


Expansive view over Qadisha

Our feet

Qadisha’s Thousand Gifts

Luke 9.5: “If people do not welcome you,
leave their town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Two parallel mountains cut steep and deep by thousands of years: How blessed I am to receive your thousand offerings.

Hundreds of wild Autumn’s leaves and Spring’s blooms confuse the senses lining the paths we take to begin the climb. Thirty fallow peach trees lie to one side; waiting on the other, a herd of russet coloured goats who stop their grazing to watch new visitors.

Deeper in, a village of 16 pale-eyed Lebanese greet us with fresh salted yoghurt, a welcome treat. We too soon leave them behind for the sea of shimmering grey green olive trees and the smattering of purple berries underfoot where 12 curious flies land on our bare arms.

Finding how nature consumes herself: a single sheep’s jaw bone clean in a bed of pink tulips. We climb and climb until the blooms turn to butter yellow daisies and two pastel butterflies meet us for a long moment on the mountain. We gaze around, looking, seeing

Feeling our way across the moss laden rocks, and slipping into a waterfall’s stream. We trudge onward, smiling and absorbing the milieu. We traverse the cliff edge and find solitary stone homes with natural gardens of wild oregano, cinnamon barks and pomegranates.

Night falls and fistfuls of scattered stars glow from afar. A meal of tabbouleh and roast chicken is served by candlelight amid banter in several languages all edging closer to the understanding of the other. Night becomes quiet atop the mountain and sleep comes too, too quickly.

Eyelids warmed by the rising sun, we take in dawn’s view of a pink sky and snow tipped mountains on the far horizon. We share a breakfast of fresh eggs with the yellowest of yolks, true Easter eggs, and sweet, bitter coffee. Bidding the family goodbye,

We climb along the sunrise. A hermit emerges from his cave and surprises us with his many languages and sense of humour; his black robe sweeping the sand along the mountain’s path. Saint Anthony’s chains and Saint Marina’s single handprint left behind long ago are religion’s relics.

The sun illuminates the whole of the valley; my eyes blur with the size of it. With all the grandeur of these mountains, their magnificence and their offerings: how can I take it all in? I carry now with me the warmth from their sun, a belly of good foods and the dust on my feet. I will not shake it.

The Zeroing of the Heart

25 Feb

Visiting the Middle East (or parts of Luton) you are sure to hear the five-times-daily call to prayer. When you first hear it, it is striking, even startling and it is always different as each muezzin who leads the call is specific to that particular area. When I landed in Lebanon recently, it caught me by surprise when travelling through downtown Beirut traffic. Immediately I rolled down my window from the backseat in the dusk of the day to listen in. In all my travels to Jordan and Lebanon I have learned something about the appreciation of the call.

The Zeroing of the Heart

I was sitting in the backseat when I heard it:
that melancholy sound, being led through the night.

No – I was riding through the streets in the blackness of the unknown city
when I lent my ear to name that haunting tune and as it came to me,
it kissed my ears.

No – I was journeying in the wide world when it came (as things do)
and I opened my ears/eyes/mind/heart to the angelic tune – the call.
And realising what it was, dancing through the air
like a heavenly lullaby, it began teaching me:
I am not alone but I am responsible;
I am human and I am not;
I am here.

It reminds me to look within and with
outward focus,
to quiet my heart
and simply listen,
to free myself
with unashamed permission,
to reduce the fighting thoughts,
to bring myself back to that beautiful zero.

Then, I will be filled.