top of page

poemoftheweek poem of the week



Zeina Hashem Beck


My aunt, the one who has lost a son
to a shooting on the street, the one slowly losing
her sight, sends me voice messages and emoticons,
prayers like A fortress, my love,
protect you from harm in all directions-
above and below you, behind and before you.


Today, the emoticon is an orange. 
Perhaps it's a mistake. Perhaps she means
a kiss, or a heart, or a flower,
her eyes and aging fingers failing her.


But perhaps she means the fruit, remembers
how she used to sing me that song
where I was the orange she wanted
to peel and eat and not share with anyone,


remembers how much I love sour winter oranges,
the way they are round and whole, yet break
into the many bright crescents hidden beneath their skin.


Perhaps she's saying what she always says
when she opens her arms and walks toward me,
I was telling myself you must have arrived.
The whole town smells of oranges when you are here.


Time has come knocking on my door, and I've told him there's no healing this country.
I've loved and I've forgotten. Hozn isn't merely sadness-she can cling, this country.


Onstage, I gather hozn with my hands, gesturing here, and here, 
and here my mother died three days after I was born to sing this country.


I've written letters from underneath the water. I've grown gills. I've waited
a long time in my backstage womb before my first breath, my beginning, this country.


My first concert was on a rooftop, like moonlight, like flocks of home-bred pigeons.
Later I became a dark nightingale. No one could stop my heart from conquering this country.


When Abdel Nasser was defeated, I sang that Masr was washing her hair by the water,
the same water that has gifted me my disease. Still she loves the morning, this country.


I traced a line from the Qur'an in the air the last time I left for a hospital in London.
Girls threw themselves off balconies the day I died. She has beautiful ways of keening, this country.


One of my songs ends with Laughter and starts with Love. Sing it. I had a radio
near my hospital bed. I could hear Cairo clearly, could hear her ring, this country. 


Dear God, 
I heard the children of Yarmouk 
have eaten the tree birds. By this I mean
how are you?


Dear God,
Do you have a piano? By this I mean
the kind that licks your heart clean
the way the sun burns & brightens
the sky, even after night raids.


Dear God,
Do you wait? By this I mean 
hell here has a vestibule-in it
Aeham plays the piano. He calls it
The Piano of the Siege, calls it
Brother. By this he means
even the dried pit of a song
is country, is food for now.


Dear God,
Do you have streets? Here in the camps,
we name our streets after the cities
we've lost. By this I mean we have heard
the rivers of our cities call us
like blind old women in empty living rooms.


Dear God,
I love you. By this I mean
do you have another name?
By this I mean there are armies
who shout your name & burn houses
& pianos. Come back.


Dear God,
Yesterday I saw a fish flailing
in the mouth of a seagull.
For a moment it seemed the bird
was choking, the fish diving upward
for air. By this I mean 
do you see us dance? 


-from Louder Than Hearts, Bauhan Publishing 2017, selected by Fall Guest Editor Tyree Daye

BIO: Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet with a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her second full-length collection, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. 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 smith|doortop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her first book, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her work won Best of the Net, has been nominated for the Pushcart and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, the Academy of American Poets, and World Literature Today, among others. Her poem, “Maqam,” won Poetry Magazine’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize. She lives in Dubai, where she has founded the poetry collective PUNCH. 

PROMPT: In Zeina Hashem Beck's "Message from my Aunt on her Son's Death Anniversary," emoticons play a surprising and powerful role, their inherently symbolic natural fully realized, conveying the depth and complexity of the speaker's relationship with her aunt. Look through your most recently used emoticons and select one or two to include in a poem; perhaps they are ones that evoke another person's personality, or some element of your own nature. Let the resonances you discover guide your thinking as you begin your draft. --Amie Whittemore, POW Associate Editor

bottom of page