Poetry / September 2015 (Issue 29)

Three Poems from Lines on Lebanon

by Antony Johae


Bullied – you threw yourself from a high window,
so said the bulletin: your school "mates" pushed you
with jibes about your skin,
your pale parents, baited you as fostered,
marked you out in their northern English town
cracked up as multi-cultural.

Back in Beirut I think it unlikely:
families are glued like paper-chains
offspring treasured like Christmas crib,
the old wisely listened to.

How could it be then that you slew your progeny?
Mixed poison for them – three innocents –
and with your husband parted
drank the last of it before he came?
It must have been with desperate hand!

Pastor teaches: all's fore-determined;
thus from pulpit: it was written that she sinned.
He follows Augustine in this pre-election
of those set for Holy City and those for utter loss.
Roman priest abjuring self-slaughter
insists on what the Church has taught her.
He asks, why did she not come to him
and contritely confess her sin?
Orthodox divine stands up in shame
and takes upon himself the blame.
We members of the Eastern Congregation
needs hold hands on the rude road to our Salvation.

In the darkness of my mind's eye
you leave with maimed rites, like Ophelia almost,
lain in the earth alone, shards, flints and pebbles thrown,
no burial bell, no obsequies, no sage requiem
but laid to rot near the cold north wall
to wait and wait till the last trumpet call.


"A note on the city of Sur [Tyre] – May God Most High destroy it." (AD 1184 / AH 580)

We first heard trumpets and flutes
when hard by the port we came upon Frankish nuptials,
guests – men in company with women – assembled at the bride's door,
she coming out to flourishes and applause.
A swain retained her left hand, another her right as though they were kin.
In procession loud music led the way;
Christian notables followed in their finest;
maidens paraded in proud apparel;
We, Muslims and strangers, looked on without reproof.
I saw the bride vested in most beautiful white, as was she;
a long train of golden silk went after her as she walked.
A gold diadem crowned her, veiled in a net of golden weave
as was her fine breast.
In the bride's bearing, her dress, her ornaments, was lustre
she being brought to the groom's house.
Each step she took no more than a span,
like cloud-wisp, delicate as soft dove
– May God protect us from such seduction.

Adapted from The Travels of Ibn Jubayr


These apartments I've passed going up,
foundations drilled out of mountainside
are now ready for first occupiers, first owners.

Walking one morning towards this glossy block,
I see a statue, human-sized, beside it
armed like a warrior for slaughter.

With white locks seeming to wave in a still wind
this old man's sword is up ready to strike,
his body poised for charge.

I protest, there's been enough of arms,
grotesqueries of civil strife
long war's anarchic butchery.

Next day, passing early, the weapon's gone.
The old man's now a seer or saint,
his finger pointing up to paradise.
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