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A Collection of Poems

by Hedy Habra

Open Air Cinema in Heliopolis

You used to say, mother:
“Let me see your face when lit
by a crescent moon:
every day of the month
will smile the way you do.”

We saw double-feature movies
in open-air theaters.
The cool breeze ran through our hair,
over our necks, lifted our skirts,
swayed us in a magical carpet.

Tempted by vendors chanting
Greek cheese and sesame breads,
we often stayed, sipping icy lemon
granitas through replays, the lift
and pause of cascading light.

Characters entered our own
camera obscura.

We never agreed on their age:
you added a few years,

I wanted them closer to mine.

I remember a recurrent scene,
fading now into a sepia cameo,
where a woman—always the same
yet different—slaps a man
before falling in his arms.

I watched your face then,
as stars outlined the sky,
the slight opening of the lips,
the Gioconda’s elegant smile
you allowed yourself,
befitting the sfumato of the late hours.

Arm in arm, we walked home,
following the trail of the moon.

From Tea in Heliopolis, first published by Cutthroat and finalist for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Award

Writing in Dust

Let’s weave braids of dust rich
with time’s unspeakable
debris, broken voices, whispers,
dried tears, insects’ wings.

Doesn’t most of it come from
our discarded skin?

Or is it the residue of fleeting
breaths hidden in pillow edges
and seams, my kitten’s fur,
conjuring my old cat’s scent
alive in this impalpable,
minute form?

And is it true you can clone someone
with just one hair, one speck of flesh,
all of which hovers around you?

Some say don’t clean too much,
a house full of dust is a sign
of laughter, of good times
spent forgetting how to clean.

Some say chasing spiderwebs
in every nook and corner isn’t healthy
while unaware of those nesting
in one’s mind.

Let’s shake the dust in our heart
watch it fall like snow in a crystal globe,
paint open shutters, let the wind in

or think of what we might
write in our own dust
as on a sandy shore,
express the unthinkable,

unravel what informs that dust,
let it settle at will,
heavy as sand in an hourglass.

First published in Nazim Hikmet Fourth Annual International Poetry Awards: A Chapbook of Talks and Poetry, winner of the Nazim Hikmet Awards.

To My Son Upon His First Visit to Lebanon

He wanted to see our summerhouse in the mountains of Baabdat, enter the pictures where a young woman his age, her long hair flowing in the wind, guided his first steps on the terrace. He wanted to dream in a language never learned, see himself reflected in familiar faces, recapture smells and fragrances. He finally saw the orchard his father planted tree after tree, green and black figs, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, apples, almonds... One hundred fruit trees we would not see blossoming spring after spring. A nd the purple grape seeds from Japan, the miniature green seedless banati from Egypt, covering the trellis, tempting clusters hanging low, cast shadows on the shaded patio. The cut stone house, its tiled roof, seemed out of place. What ever happened to the one in the family album? No longer surrounded by green mountain slopes, nor an open view to the horizon. E rratic buildings sprouted like mushrooms during the civil war. Concrete was biting the flanks of the mountains, spreading like a contagious disease. He rang the doorbell. The tenants were friendly, inviting him in. They said the present owner was very proud of his orchard, that he himself had planted each one of these tall, imposing trees... He called us excited, said he wanted to buy the house back. W e could spend summers there. Time regained, he thought... eager to relive our dream, retrieve its lost broken pieces, I tried to explain what does belonging mean exactly? And does it really matter?


From Tea in Heliopolis, first published by Pirene’s Fountain.

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