Rhett Watts

Rhett Watts

Rhett Watts was born in Beirut, Lebanon and has lived in New York and San Francisco. She has poems in journals including: The Worcester Review, Sojourners Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Christian Century, First Things, and Yankee Magazine, The Lyric among others. Her work is included in the books: The Best Spiritual Writing 2000 and in Knitting into the Mystery. Rhett facilitates writing workshops in CT and MA. Her books are Willing Suspension and The Braiding. Her chapbook, No Innocent Eye, was co-winner of the Rane Arroyo Chapbook Award.


LETTER TO LEBANON (July 15, 1995)

5,000 battle-ready Marines were landed in Lebanon.
The action was taken to prevent the Iraq rebellion from
spilling over into general war. (News report, July 15, 1958)

Three apricots lie in a bowl
beneath my window, beside the clear
blue vase painted with oriental poppies.

Blue and orange,
La Mer and mish-mish,
the Mediterranean and the apricot.

Both live in the pastel faces I paint,
olive skins finger-rubbed into indigo borders.
In my garden, the saffron tiger lily leans into the
blue lilium africanus, lily of the Nile.

Turquoise laid into burnished gold,
lapis set in hammered copper,
these are the tones of my jeweled Beirut,
the Paris of the Middle East.

I slice the tender fruit, splitting it along the cleft.
The orange is more sudden, richer than expected,
the flesh firmer, drier than the sweet wet of peach.
Only in my imagination are they confused.


Above my desk hangs the small snapshot of Zeina,
the Lebanese girl I sponsor. She smiles down at me,
pierced to the cork board with a single clear tack.
I want to ask her about her Beirut.

I want to savor a tiny portrait of her face, her nut brown skin
and the institutional blue of her kindergarten smock.
I will include a note. Will it start:
“Beirut is my natal star, my crib from Nicosia, Cyprus.”

I wonder which things I know from photos, family tales,
which are impressions from the evacuation,
or trips taken years later,
even which fictions are mine.

One evening in the streets, an armed soldier (Muslim or Christian–
does it matter?) held my mother’s breath between his cross hairs.
She waved me above her head, a chubby white flag,
yelling the Arabic word for baby.

Dropping his gun, he begged a thousand pardons, wept.
“No one loves children like the Arabs,”
my American mother used to say.

In the photo, rows of cypress rise on dry mountains
behind the Temple of Baalbek. Here, where babies
were once sacrificed to appease angry gods,
I played with my brothers, children among the ruins.


Some memories are only felt in the body–
The sweet taste of dates melting, slowly
on the tongue.
The morning scents of coffee and bread rising
from streets filled with the honks of taxis, men.

Sour acid burned beneath my sternum
with the clang of the wrought iron gate closing the elevator,
trapping me in the guts
of the ancient apartment house, between floors.

Did I know how to scream for help in French or Arabic?
No matter, someone came, someone always did.
Shahina, a neighbor, my mother or
the U.S. Marines.

The shells that fell at midnight, on either side, exploded
behind our eyes while we slept the deep sleep of children.
Our eyelids and the corners of our mouths
twitched the irregular beat for years.

From Willing Suspension (Antrim House Books, 2013)

Poetry in this post: © Rhett Watts
Published with the permission of Rhett Watts