Tag Archives: people

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.


The Fires of Baalbek

19 Feb

My first post! But first, a story:
This poem was requested by Lebanese poet, Hani Ali Awada, just this last week. I was travelling through Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley and spent the afternoon in awe of the enormous and stunning Roman ruins in Baalbek. My three friends and I stayed at the Jupiter Hotel and met Hani, the owner. I was absolutely delighted to find out that he was a poet (first) and hotel owner (second). A surprising treat that Hani showed us the memorial room he had set up for a late Lebanese poet, Khalil Mutran, and another room dedicated to monthly poetry readings (hot tourist tip). As the evening ensued my friends and I spent three hours being entertained by Hani and and another artist (Tamer Chreif) around a much appreciated wood fire in Hani’s lobby (one of my friends was a fireman so no worries there) sipping Lebanese coffee (think cinnamony sugared espresso). Hani was persuaded to give a dramatic reading of a recent poem in Arabic – and it was beautifully moving. In exchange, he requested that I write one for him – which I did.

He gave me the title of the American Poet.

Therefore, a blog was necessary.

Here is the poem:

The Fires of Baalbek

How little has changed
For the Lebanese of Sun City:
Millennia may pass
But intricacies remain.

I don’t just mean the ruins.
The smiling eyes,
The jovial, amicable welcoming in,
And the fire, the fire, the fire.

There is nothing like huddling
Round a wood-burning stove.
Our poet host, Hani, feeding the flames
Log after laugh after story after log.

Even when the electricity cuts out.
But remains are not ruins;
What remains, stays, endures.
Another log.

The people I have met
Are these beautiful pillars:
Weathering the dearest storms
And standing.

What we have come to learn:
We are intricately connected.
How little things have changed.
And the fire is still young.