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


Trapped in his backyard,
an old man
thinks of cafés,
backgammon games, dice
thrown over inlaid wood.
Fingertips folded
on an empty palm, hand
recapturing the lost motion,
he draws on his pipe,
reviving crackling embers,
attentive to the divas’ deep
vibrato, Feyrouz,
Sabah, Om

He breeds canaries
in a shed, feeds them egg
shells, slices of apple.
Each dawn, he hangs
cages on the trellis
overlooking the swing,
waters his vegetables,
precious seeds
flown from far away,
curled cucumbers,
a special vine from Lebanon,
its silken leaves
fit for stuffing.

Rolling patience beads
made of coral,
he sits for hours
under the covered porch.
Lips stuck to the tip
of the painted pipe,
he thanks the Lord
his grandchildren
will live free
in the New World.
Does it matter if
his soul sinks
in an iridescent flask
blown into eddies of smoke?
Eastern voices mix
with the birds’ song, Sabah,
Om Kolsoum,

Carefully kindling coals
with tongs, he watches
arabesques, swirls emerging
from underwater, imprisoned
in the blown glass,
bursting at the surface,
deafened words
of a drowned Phoenician sailor.

Published by Curbside Review, Pablo Neruda Prize Finalist 2003

Tea at Chez Paul’s

We ate Schtengels at Chez Paul’s,
twisted breads sprinkled with coarse salt
clinging to our lips.
We could see the sea enfolding us
through the tall bay windows
of the semi-circular Swiss teahouse.
You described a Phoenician Tale
just for me,
how the mountain slopes
reddened each spring
with Adonis’ blood,
how this delicate flower,
truly and duly Lebanese
has come to be called a red poppy, an anemone,
with all its melodious variations,
un amapola,
un coquelicot,
ed anche un papavero

We walked through a field scattered
with red poppies bright as when Ishtar
sprinkled nectar
on her beloved’s blood.
Time seemed elastic then,
space infinite.
I wished to bring home a handful of scarlet light,
to keep the softness of its wrinkled petals
alive a while longer.
The moment I cut Adonis’ flower,
hanging like a broken limb, its corolla fell over my hand,
head too heavy with dreams.
No wonder blossoms tremble
on their fragile stem.

Sometimes love is only real when not uprooted.
Isn’t there a geography of every emotion?
not a precious, intricate Carte du Tendre,
but a trail of forgotten footsteps mapping
every heartbeat, every motion?
A stairwell, a car, a booth, a parking lot,
a streetlight, a gateway,
an old-fashioned réverbère,

a Bus Stop or maybe a tree, a tree stump,
a moss-covered path, a pond
a small creek, a flat stone,
a hill, a porch or even a wooden bench?

Take the poppy, for instance. It will only breathe
and give joy at its birthplace.
I can still feel the small flower melting
into liquid silk in my palm.
I held the red petals to my cheek
like a morning kiss while you kept telling how Ishtar
or as some may say Astarté, often mistaken for Isis,
was truly her Phoenician incarnation,
before she was ever called Aphrodite or Venus.
I remember how you talked and talked
until we both stepped into Ishtar’s temple.

Published by Nimrod International Journal, Pablo Neruda Prize Finalist 2003

Thirty-five years later, Beirut’s Pigeons’ Rock
forever mute witness of the civil war

a huge rock erect
where purple evenings
conjure Phoenician sails,
a backdrop to tales heard
as a child, of lovers hiding,
often drowning in its grotto’s
emerald tears.
I used to imagine
how the Champollion,
a ship venturing too close,
lay trapped for years
in blue mist,
her insides
torn apart by this Giant’s
unclenched fist,
stopped in slow motion,
in an idle attempt to rise,
petrified by salt spray,
her remains buried
in quicksand
in the midst of the Bay.

A fallen Olympian,
forever flanked
by dancing waves,
its ire, our inner
obscure well, as if
casting a black
cloud over the former
brightness of sails,
rustling canopies,
over our steps along
the Promenade des Français,

breeze flowing
through my curls, gusts
of wind sculpting
our bodies, redesigning
erasing footsteps,
echoes of laughter,
muffled sighs,
all the people
long gone.

Some, as pawns
on a map, glided to
another turquoise Bay,
in Jounieh,
along the wavering coastline,
an ersatz, surviving its artifice…
There, people of the same faith
pull on the narguilehs
in the cafés,
play dice and backgammon,

women of the same clan
stretch their smooth,
lustrous bodies
under the midday sun
deserting Raoucheh’s cornice
its rocky shores now crowded
only by male bathers
and fishermen,

while the imposing stone horseshoe
clamped in indigo
is no longer a good omen
after so many years
of fallen,
dismantled bodies
blown up theaters,
casinos, snipers’ crossfire
from deserted terraces,
the air still remembers
the smell of fear
and gunpowder,

its acrid taste unmasked
by the unrelenting fumes
of daily exhausts.
In every corner,
next to a restored building,
an old house stands, scarred,
awaiting mouth agape
the miraculous facelift.
The burning sun tires
of recycling endless debris
left over by thousands,
the waste of hatred,
and time, once a healer
broods despair.

Some far away will dream
a laced balcony,
delicate mosaics, unfaded,
patina adding its final touch
to pink façades, sepia walls
faceted stones,
deeply engraved in the retina
unfolding in the mirrors
of our minds.

I recall how wafts of orange blossoms
mixed with effluvia
of salty breeze,
once whispering under pillars
and arcades, would reach us
as we rested under a Jacaranda’s
trembling blue shade.

I often gazed through thick glass,
at the delicate displays of vials and flasks
rescued from the depths
of Tyre and Sidon
gilded by time,
marveled at the fluidity of erosion
over blown glass
and burnished metals,
all pearl-like treasures forever gone,

like so many of us,
the lucky ones
fading away in distant lands
dreaming new dreams,
our children unaware
of what is no longer there,
unable to hear the voices
we cannot silence

the song of the orphans
the song of the fishermen’s nets
the song of the abandoned house
the song of the goat living in a palace
the song of the refugees milking a goat over Persian carpets
the song of the windshields constellated with stars of death
the song of the driver forced to leave his car at an intersection
the song of an entire school bus emasculated because they were Maronites
the song of mothers and children blown up because they were not Maronites
the song of a town torn apart, its children hanging like heavy fruits from olive
and almond-trees, nipples and testicles dripping with blood on the lower branches
the song still heard through murmuring leaves, cacti and pine needles, as the roots remember
the song of Beirut burning us safe watching the flames from a hill,
waiting for the madness to reach the mountains
the song of the man who never returned home, his head rolling behind his car
the song of a fool who crossed the green line to meet his Muslim lover,
only to be found the next day in a small bag under the infamous bridge
the song of the silent ride over the bridge of death, the only way to the airport.
I ran to have a passport picture taken with the two of you,
tried to comb your hair as best as I could.
Your hair so fine, it curled around my fingers.

Published by Mizna

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Poetry in this post: © Hedy Habra
Published with the permission of Hedy Habra