Hedy Habra

Hedy Habra

Hedy Habra was born in Egypt and is of Lebanese origin. She is the author of a poetry collection, Tea in Heliopolis (Press 53, 2013), a collection of short stories, Flying Carpets (Interlink, 2013), winner of the 2013 Arab American Book Award’s Honorable Mention in Fiction, and a book of literary criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa (Iberoamericana 2012).

She has an MA and an MFA in English and an MA and PhD in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University, where she currently teaches. She is the recipient of WMU’s All-University Research and Creative Scholar Award. Her poems were finalist in numerous contests, including Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize and recently in the 2012 Nazim Hikmat Poetry Award.

Her multilingual work has appeared in more than forty journals and thirteen anthologies, including Connotation Press, Blue Five Notebook, Nimrod, Prairie Wolf Press, Cumberland River Review, The New York Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Diode, Cutthroat, Innisfree, Bitter Oleander, Puerto del Sol, Cider Press Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Saranac Review, Sukoon, Letras Femeninas, Rowayat, Mizna and Poet Lore.

Please visit Hedy Habra’s website: www.hedyhabra.com

 
The Road to Tyre

spreads its loose ribbon along the shoreline,
through orange groves hedged with white jasmine…

“We’ll stop at Sidon,”
you once said, “I’ll tell
you the secrets of every stone,
of every carving. We’ll bring
back a blue vase
of iridescent blown-glass,
perhaps a small Narguileh.”

On the roadside, an old
peasant, with white
shirt and gathered black
pants lead a donkey
loaded with fruit baskets.

“I’d like to buy pomegranates
to share when we return
to Beirut,” I thought.
“I’ll part the red leathered
skin, roll the ruby seeds
beneath my fingers
one by one.”

I still feel the salty breeze,
on my lips, the warm,
dizzying scent of orange
blossoms, a bridesmaid’s
endless walk to the altar.

We never made it to Tyre,
that day.
We never saw the Crusaders’
Castle together,
we’ll never cross its paved
causeway hand in hand,
a narrow path, invisible
from a distance,
like a carpet thrown over
the blue waters, linking
its threshold to the shore,
acquiring life only
through familiar footsteps.

Year after year
we dreamt of going South
again. The pomegranates
untouched,
forgotten on a shelf
receding in my mind,
must have shriveled
like the fruits I pick
with care, then throw
out the window, deep
into the woods.

Published by Parting Gifts

 
Encounters

In the tower of a restored Italian cloister a bourgeois restaurant
flourishes in its loggias I meet the high dignitaries of my adventures
my djins and afrites

We’re trapped in the basement of a building in Beirut with many
unknown families we’ll have to cross the street at dawn
to change shelter during the next truce

In a car parked in a dark alley a hand slowly outlines my eyes
the bridge of my nose lingers at my lips and neck
everyone hears my heartbeat

Alone in my bed again crying I hit with my fists the indifferent wall

On an indefinite sheet of water surrounded by two lines of rowers
she watches the rhythmic synchronized movements
of their gigantic oar
the boat barely touches the surface

Your smile tells me in a stairwell “You haven’t changed in twenty
years you stood it all well”

it’s getting harder to sit I become heavier every day I’m no longer
good for anything anymore I’d like a small drop to warm
my heart up children bring my shawl please

We walked hand in hand over brittle pine needles wild oregano
in bloom thorny umbels swarming with shiny ants

it’s impossible my house isn’t for sale I’ll never sell

Published by Linden Lane Magazine

 
To Amal

(Because your name means hope)

How can one think of better
days when streets
swarm
with armed men,
their uniforms
changing
with
the drift of war
their faces the same,
their eyes, your son’ eyes.

Amal, your name means hope,
yet years
go by, darkening
days with violent ink,
night’s pulse
resounding
through splattered walls,
treacherous alleys.
And what’s left
of your sweet name,
when deafened
by the sound of anger,

you dream you’re lost in Beirut’s
neighborhoods,
in search
of a way home
in the midst
of rubble,
faceless gunmen
check your ID
for a Cross or a Crescent,
at every intersection.

Unable to withhold your boy’s finger
from the trigger,
you lie,
your nightmare, a faint echo
of raging battles.

Published by Mizna

 

No Man’s Land

She was gathering thyme
on the winding hills
of South Lebanon

Two bullets
pinned her
to a thorny bush

Instead of wings
she had her harvest
of thyme.

Published by The Kerf

 

 
Immured

I live in an underground house, in the flank of one of the pyramids of Giza. I breathe heavily the enclosed air, so thick it rubs over me. I think of the doomed priests of Egypt who were buried alive.

This house has a secret wing, I move in it like in a dry aquarium. Crystal and pink marble chandeliers cast a faded light over the damask Louis Seize chairs. I address the elegant seats as if I expect an answer. I am amazed at the impeccable condition of the room.

Delicate tapestries and old oils cover its walls. Carrara pink marble tables tiptoe over pastel Persian rugs. This part of the house is never used. No one knows of its existence, not even the maid.

I have a sleep-in maid–she has no face, like in Mexican muralist paintings; she spends her time sweeping the floor, an automaton. We work together incessantly. I see endless corridors, a maze of rooms waiting to be cleaned.

There are no windows. No one knows the house and I exist.
I live only for the house, a victim of the Pharaohs’ eternal curse.

Published by Linden Lane Magazine

 
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 theatres.
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.

Published by Cutthroat, Pablo Neruda Prize Finalist 2003

 
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All poems on this post: © Hedy Habra
Published with the permission of Hedy Habra