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poetry Thirty-Two in a Different Country; Invented Mothers

A Lebanese poet from Dubai, Zeina Hashem Beck offers two poems, Thirty-Two and in a Different Country and The Invented Mothers, both touching the deep trauma of warfare on civilians.



In the afternoon, the soldiers swarm
the building walls, like spiders. Every night
you are ten, you stand behind the glass door
of the balcony, until you begin to see them,
shadow-like, about to jump
over the railing. This is when you start to run,
and it’s always into your parents’ old house,
and you’re always in your pajamas, barefoot.
You try to hide under the bed first, then realize
it's too obvious. You try the closet, slip
behind your mother’s dresses.
They’re in the living room now, and you
can see them, as if your mind were a camera —
the rifles, the helmets, the dark green
uniforms. You sneak into the kitchen,
open the cupboards under the sink
you wish you could turn into air, into salt.
You can hear the boots, the flower vase
flung unto the floor. You make a final sprint
to the bathroom. Laughter. Someone spits.
You decide, Bathtub. The voices get closer.
You look at the small window, think Jump.
You tell yourself you are thirty-two,
you are thirty-two and in a different country.


There are mothers made out of yellow daisies
blooming near a grave. In Palestine,
a little girl presses her ear against her mother’s
tombstone, as if to listen — yalla tnam, yalla tnam,*
the lullabies of the dead are the most beautiful.
Striped school uniform, pink backpack,
blue wristwatch to keep the time,
for even after the dead, there are things to learn,
like reading, and maps, and minus one.
There are mothers made out of chalk.
In Iraq, a little girl sleeps inside
a drawing of her mother on the concrete,
the parent’s dress like a boat
big enough for her to sail in. For now,
even this waterless womb would do.
The child’s thick black hair spills
on the floor, which is her mother’s chest,
and somewhere, even after the cemeteries,
the trees put on their almond-flower dresses.

*The title of a traditional Arabic lullaby. Translates as “Come on, sleep.”
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet, a graduate of the American University of Beirut. Her first poetry collection, To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014), won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her work has appeared in various literary magazines, including Ploughshares, Nimrod, Tampa Review, Poetry Northwest, The Common, Mslexia, and Magma. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Dubai.