Scimitar moon, trembling the strings inside the piano. Scimitar against a vermilion sky, in Arabic, hilal. Curtains furled open like gardenias. Wind-flower, marguerite, friend of the night.
Friend of the night. No happiness so wide despair cannot cross. ‘If I see a red bird in my country will I know the color of a bird in another?’ Like the stream washing over the rock, not the rock. From the soul of her people she makes wine. Who leans out so far from the window?
Scimitar moon, a woman’s laughter untouched behind shutters, a stone house with red tile roof. The house moults from within, muffled strings inside a piano. Lanterns of fishing boats beading the sea. Lighthouse. Lighthouse. Lighthouse. From behind a scrim of cloud thin beams filter through a copse of oak. A vermilion sky, a memory.
Friend of the night. April’s anemone. Souvenir, sovenance, in Arabic, al-atlal. A rusted iron key, oaken door, the invisible white hand drawing the shutters in a stone house with red tiles. Who leans out so far from the window? Warm barricades. ‘If I see a red bird in my country can I know the color of a bird in another?’ There is no happiness too wide for despair. From their sweat she makes bread and jasmine.
Scimitar moon, hilal. The stone house with the red tile roof, an invisible white hand holding the rusted key. At sea the full moon refracts spectral bands, weaving filigree. A column of cloud by day, fiery virago by night. The sea a sickish green. Flaccid raindrops plough bull√É¬≠s eyes in the sand. Who knows that the rainbow is a circle, and we stand at its center? Fierce April cataracts wash down the iron-red soil, blood of Adonis, gored each spring by the wild boar, the air cleft by moans. Lighthouse. Lighthouse. Sovenance, souvenir, al-atlal.
Friend of the night, the wind in flower. Colors of a bird in my country. From behind a scrim of cloud thin beams filter through a copse of oak whose roots twist among our bones. Moult. Column of cloud by day, fiery virago by night. The rainbow is a circle. Lanterns of fishing boats beading the sea, warm barricades. Quiver the strings inside the piano. The curtains furled, opened like gardenias. So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire? Like blood washing over the rock, a gangrenous wind, a green sickish sea. Scimitar moon. Friend of the night. A woman√É¬≠s laughter from behind the shutters. Who leaned out so far? In Arabic, hilal. In Arabic, al-atlal.
Notes: ‘To Beirut,’ lyrics by Joseph Harb, sung by Fayrouz
‘If I see a red bird…’ from a video documentary, ‘Children of Shatila,’ by May Masri
Commentary on ‘Lebanon’ by author
My wife and I spent the academic year 2000 teaching at the American University of Beirut (AUB), in the Faculty of Health Sciences, the leading school of public health in the Middle East. We were among the handful of Americans returning to the University after years of utterly ruinous civil war, the abduction of western hostages, the murder of a president of the university.
Our Lebanese colleagues kept the school going through all the chaos, still visible in the many shell-pocked and caved-in buildings, even if they had to sleep in corridors because it was too dangerous to go outside. We have special attachments to the Middle East, and my wife is an alumna of AUB.
The poem reflects many of the tumultuous impressions of our stay there.
Norbert Hirschhorn MD
February 9, 2001