دانيال، أنت إبني | Daniel, you’re my son.

I’m not sure
how she knows
the hajjeh
upstairs when
I might need
a kind word,
some support
or succor,
her presence;
she’s a knack
for knowing
just the right
moment to
intervene
nonetheless;
like my mom
in the States
who knows when
to call or
who sends books
on subjects
I can’t quite
remember
mentioning
or who plates
up some food
that recalls
days gone by
or who leaves
me alone
in my thoughts
undisturbed.

For me here
in Beirut
it might be
a knocking
at the door
and a plate
of koussa
bi laban
,
comfort food
for the soul;
or it might
be a word
in the street
on the way
to the shops;
or it might
like today
be a gift
from on high
a voice from
the window,
her kitchen
above my
balcony.

How she knows
I can’t say,
intuits
I’m not sure
but she does,
like they do,
like this day
after the
rejection—
yet again;
from what was
formerly
what I thought—
imagined
was—might be—
my future
destiny:
“academe”—
yet revealed
once again
to not be
anything
of the sort.

Thistle seeds,
held aloft
with a wish,
and a breath,
in the end
push up weeds
still and all;
at long last
bear no fruit
when all is
said and done,
no matter
the soil
nor the dirt
nor the land
where they find
themselves sown;
the place that
they end up
implanted.

Rejection—
from that place
I was raised
to believe
was of hope,
if only
I worked hard
if only
I spoke well
if only
I played nice
which I think
fair to say
I have done
to a ‘T’;
which I think
it fair to
say that I
accomplished
par excellence;
which I think
fair to say
nonetheless
is a ruse
and a trap;
which I think
fair to say
is quite hard
to swallow—
to stomach—
to digest—
at this point,
this late stage,
very late
in my life.

And somehow
given this
she knows when
to show up,
she senses
and she knows
and she calls,
a soft voice
as I bring
some water
to the plants—
madder shrubs,
lemongrass,
olive trees,
and date palms—
set outside;
while I am
all the while
for my work
unaware
she is there
above me.

“There’s water
in your place?”
she’d ask me,
when she’d meet
me streetside;
the water
now back on—
for a time—
the water
in the pipes
welcomed noise—
the dripping,
gurgling,
the question
of neighbors:
“There’s water
in your place?”
a bonding
and a joke,
in a part
of Beirut
whose name means:
“Fountainhead”—
“The Spring’s Source”—
comical
irony;
farcical
tragedy
all the same;
the water
long since gone
and we are
long since done
forgotten
no longer
the source now
of much of
anything;
Left to live
lives of aught
as perhaps
it should be.

She calls out
and I stop,
I look up
and I smile,
and after
the endless
questioning
concerning
the health of
the other—
Hamdullah
she tells me
to extend
out my hands
she has cake
to give me;
and after
de rigueur
rejections
of effort
on my part,
and after
de rigueur
insistence
that I must
acquiesce
on her part,
she throws down
to me cake
in a bag
tied just so;
this recalls
for me our
Ramadan
exchanges,
the endless
quite comic
attempted
cookery
outdoings—
belovèd
traditions
that run deep;
inherent
to our sense
of union:
dutiful
expected
mutual
assistance—
de rigueur.

And she asks
where I’ve been
and I say
I’ve been here,
and she says
I am missed
and I say
as are you;
and I say
killik zoq,
yaa hajjeh

In the way
that Arabs
use foodterms
to evoke
that someone
or something
is, like food,
delicious;
sustaining;
life-giving.

Like the one
next to me
on the plane
to the States
from Egypt
who referred
to the bread
that no one
can afford
on the streets
of Cairo
as “‘ayeesh”—
“life” itself;
in the way
that we joke
that you know
someone’s from
Lebanon
when at lunch
they discuss
what they ate
for breakfast
and talk of
what they’ll cook
that evening
for dinner
as well as
what’s in store
for breakfast
the next day
inch’allah;
in that way
that some fruit
from the shop
where I “work”
late at night—
an apple,
bananas,
some mangoes,
pineapples,
or kiwis,
strawberries,
or peaches,
oranges,
or grapefruits—
make for a
stop on the
way to the
house of a
friend; that make
quite simply
quite nobly
for a gift
for the one
you might greet
quite in kind:
“yaa tayyib!”
“yaa laziz!”
“yaa helou!”

They might say:
“like the days
long since past
in New York”;
endearments
from days now
long since gone:
“Hey, cupcake!”
“Hey, sweetie!”
“Hey, cookie!”
“She’s a long
tall glass of
water on
a hot day!”
But these all
still fall flat
for the sad
unequal
comparing
that Anglos
make between
food and those
they consume,
apportion,
and digest.

And she smiles
and she says:
“yaa Daniel,
yaa ibni!”

And given
what I know
of her son
long since lost
in the war
as I’m told
and given
what I feel
are these shoes
I can’t fill
and given
what it means
this unsaid
now stated
it is all
I can do
to smile
and not cry
as I choke
back my tears.

A pause—and
some chitchat
and news and
then I feint
a goodbye
and I ask
what she needs
and she says:
“your good health”;
and I wish
from Allah
for her, too,
such blessings,
and I wait
’til she’s gone
so she won’t
see my tears
yet again;
and I wait
’til I’m back
inside in
my kitchen
with sweet cake—
sustenance—
as manna
delivered
from above.

It is now
at this time
I think of
the saying
that recalls
those fallen
in the wars
of this land,
a constant
parade of
the sons and
the daughters
sacrificed
for a place
unworthy
of such loss,
which they say—
“luckily”—
I managed
to avoid
via the
“virtue” of
adoption;
the unseen
reward of
that curtain
now opened
reveals the
patiently
awaited
deceptive
booby prize.

And I try
to think it
loud enough
that she might
hear my thoughts,
these musings
powerful,
unstated,
a given,
as I might
state this to
my mother
here somewhere
gone unknown,
or else to
my mother
there Stateside
whose patience
exceeds my
bent to push
and to test
that limit;
or to those
who echo
similar
sentiment
in many
myriad
motherings.

For infants
adopted
understand
the meaning
implicit
in living
this margin,
a tacit
martyrdom
endured for
an unwilled
and unwanted
vague lost cause;
and the words—
the saying,
in language
old as time—
come to me,
the proverb
in meter
and rhythm
resonates
its meaning
and I say:
“O mothers
of martyrs,
whatever
be the cause,
whatever
be the loss,
we are your
progeny—
your sons and
your daughters;
and we are—
we remain—
forever
your children.”
And of this
might be seen
something which
approaches—
something which
allows for—
the barest,
the merest,
basis and
premise for
survival.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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