New Poems from Zeina Hashem Beck

Photo: ‘Tripoli Clock Tower’ by Natheer Halawani


ROOM 607


By then the doctors had removed the tubes

that came out of your lung; by then your fever

had dropped and you were eating again; by then

the cafeteria chef would recognize my voice

on the phone, ask if you were having your usual,

rice with laban; by then the woman next door had

died, her family had prayed; by then the old man at the end

of the hall had stopped shouting, I’m blind! I’m blind!

all night; by then you were sitting in your hospital bed

smiling, offering me coffee from a pink plastic cup;

by then the nurses knew the name of the two-year-old

with severe pneumonia, and knew her mother,

the one who’d slept with her in the ICU, the one who ran

down the corridor as the nurse tried to find her daughter’s

vein again; by then we had filled your room

with toys, books, crayons, because parents want

to make their children feel like children

everywhere—in hospitals, in refugee tents, in shelters;

by then we were already preparing for that ride back

home, when you pointed, Mom! Dad! Look!

A beautiful tree! and so were the cars, the street,

the traffic lights and the sky, which was finally vaster

than a window frame for the first time in six weeks.






Khadijah always burnt the onions, arrived late,

blamed it on the faraway village, the buses.

My mother yelled at her so loud

the entire street heard:


You do this on purpose.

Her neck muscles tightened.

Don’t come back on Thursday.

Her veins bulged.

Why do I pay you?

Her face turned red.

There are many others

in the city. My husband is in love

with himself, and so is my father.


Then she lit a cigarette and Khadijah got the oil,

pressed her fingers into Mom’s shoulders, tried

to loosen the lumps. My mother burped.

Khadijah told again the story of the almonds

her husband brought the day he asked for

her hand in marriage. How he gave her his coat

to hang by the door, screamed at her

for not searching its pockets for her gift,

shook his head, called her stupid.


When I ask what her husband does,

she says, Tarek? Oh he’s a—what do you call it—

pilot. The women laugh and laugh and laugh.

Khadijah folds a paper into a fan

to cool my mother. When I ask her

about the scarf on her head,

she says, This? Just a way to keep

the hair out of my eyes, get on with the work.






The night before I left, you wrote me recipes,

said, God help us, you don’t even know

how to cook rice, then smiled and added,

Good for you. All night you wrote

about lentils, eggplants, yogurt, peas,

included notes like, Don’t daydream,

remember the fire / Watch out

for the steam as you lift the lid /

Don’t burn your eyelashes when you look

into the oven. An airplane and a few weeks

later, I went through your notes and found

a little prayer. I hope,

it read, I hope you’ll forgive

the mistakes I’ve made. I knew


what you meant—those afternoons

you pulled at your hair, lay crying

on the bed, told me, Even Allah

can’t stand you right now. How you chased me

around the house, waved your slipper, flung it

like a boomerang. That time you slapped me

across the face, then walked barefoot

down the building stairs. The days you said,

I don’t want to hear you say the word

mama anymore. Ever.


So I called you, said things like

hi like the weather like my hips

are getting wider by the second.

I told you I had managed to cook

your moujaddara; you laughed,

said you had no doubt. Then I asked

if you remembered the times


I kept jumping from the top of the closet

unto the bed; how I was convinced I flew, if only

for a few seconds, and how you believed,

said Yes said Good job said I see you.



Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second collection, Louder than Hearts, has won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 smith|doorstop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. She has participated in literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


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