Two Poems by Zeina Hashem Beck

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Thirty-Two and in a Different Country

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.


The Invented Mothers

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.”

Picture of Zeina Hashem Beck

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet with a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her first poetry collection, To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014),  won the 2013 Backwaters Prize, was a runner up for the Julie Suk Award, and was included on Split This Rock's list of recommended poetry books for 2014. She has been nominated for two Pushcart prizes, and her work has appeared in various literary magazines, including Ploughshares, Nimrod, Tampa Review, Poetry Northwest, The Common, Mslexia, and Magma. Zeina lives with her husband and two daughters in Dubai, where she regularly performs her poetry and hosts a poetry and open mic collective called PUNCH. Learn more about Zeina here.