I am beautiful!
What excuse have you brought me today?
Put away your convictions and your so called confidence in this.
Put away your guns, halt your tanks.
You ruin me in my home, you take-selfish.
What is it I have taken from you?
I’ve given you land, sweet land. Fertile lands at the shores of my friend with blue waters.
Mountains capped with white snows
Caverns in my chest, so beautiful is MY nature.
And this war you fight?
Ugly is YOUR nature.
Let mothers sleep well, let their sons come home. Let my people be at peace.
Leave your anger somewhere else-with someone else.
Let me be beautiful
I am Beirut-
I am Lebanon…….
Beirut(the well), Lebanon(yogurt) beckoned for my return. She sits, eyes wide open on the blue waters of the mediterranean sea. 2 years later i made my epic return to her specatacularly mountanous bossum. Like crops in glorious green fields from opposing farmers plowed and planted into mountains rising from the sea. They cut into opposite grains against one another. She is diverese in her landscape and in her people. She is battered and bruised, she is to be reborn. Lebanon, is beautiful like immense layers of silk blankets of many coulours spilling from her heart, her mind.
I am four years old in my grandmother’s kitchen in Long Island as she stands at the stove preparing dinner and my grandfather taps his feet playing a loosing game of solitaire at the kitchen table. Old Italian music plays on their small 1930s radio and he whistles along. The only thought in their minds is of their son, a peace keeper half way around the world. Lebanon, a sugar cube in a warm glass of water, so sweet but slowly dissolving away. The smell in the air is hard to forget, She stirs slowly, peering out the window with no perceptive focus with a wooden spoon, the marinara sauce in a large pot bubbles like blood spitting onto her 20 year old apron. I stand at her side with a cup of cold milk in my tiny hands. A cup so large I can barely hold it to my lips with out milk dripping down my chin. It’s mid day the grandfather clock ticks and light comes through the sink window lighting up the small aloe plants my grandmother keeps to put on my knees and hands when I fall outside in her small fenced in back yard. as dust dances on the sun beams, not much house cleaning has gone on since the news that broke only a couple days earlier. There is no conversation, just the crackling radio. I look at the back of the milk carton at the picture of a small girl who went missing the week before. “where was she?”, I think. It was these milk cartons; the lost that a parent has come to live with daily and the reminder that so many people now have a picture of their son or daughter on the first shelf in the refrigerator. Soon it was to become my uncle, my grandparents’ son. Not on the milk carton but a picture on the front page of the daily newspaper and a folded American flag in a glass case on the mantle above their fireplace. The door bell rings. His final memories had come home with a priest in a black car. I stand at the front of the storm glassed door as my grandmother hits the ground knees first screaming with despair and agony. She didn’t even open the door to greet her guests. Her son was not coming home. I was told to leave the front foyer and go watch TV. It was the Brady Bunch that soothed me as I ate raw spaghetti. It crunches between my teeth deafening the sounds emitting from the front room. I can barely hear the questions mumbled from their shaky throats. I get off the brown leather couch and walk back over where I can see what is unfolding. Light hit’s the stained glass on the front door as the priest enters the house slowly trying to console my family. My grandfather walks away in disgust and hit’s the wall. He enters the kitchen and with a crackle the radio comes to silence. They all sit down at the kitchen table and the priest begins to talk. I hate seeing my grandmother like this so I go back into the living room and take a seat on the brown shag carpeting. “I’m sure they will tell me what happened later, and where is my mom and dad? they should be here soon”. I was only four and little did I know that this moment in time would become a huge part of my life. The funeral, the continued growl of ravenous chaos that bites a country I knew nothing about, the historical arguments with my mother, the 21 gun salute, and the emptiness of my grandfather’s whistle .He stands in his kitchen now without my deceased grandmother cutting fruit. He sobs , holding his picture in his hand as he talks to a stranger at 8a.m. one morning in an Italian bakery as he waits in line for bread. The son that he wants to talk to, and to hold one more time. My grandfather slouches on my uncle‘s bed and looks around at a room that hasn’t changed since the day that he was deployed, a broken man.
He pens his final letter home under a small bed lamp clipped to his bunk and cigarette smoke burning his eyes as tears and ash drops onto his pillow case and the city around him. His hands tremble as he struggles to hold the pen, “What to write now, and who do I address it to? My mother? No, she is too weak, maybe my eldest sister?“ I picture him looking over at me as I stand in the center of his room. In his eyes I am still four but now he is only a boy to me,22 and has his whole life ahead of him. What do I tell him? “Send it to me, Uncle. Small cuts burn his hands and dirt cakes his face. He begins to cry again. This is his final place to rest his head and he knew it. I picture him clinging to his sheets in hot sweat listening to the bombs around him asking himself “why am I going to die in a place I know nothing or little about”. He falls asleep finally, turning over to dream of a better place, home. The smell of his mother’s marinara and the sound of his father’s whistle but in the morning one sound sticks out. The jeep revving it’s engine hauling 4,000 pounds of tnt. It drives towards my uncles’ final sleep. And I see the driver’s eyes, glossy and stained red, sweat pours from his brow. He enters through the south gate knocking it down. I hope he said a prayer and asked for forgiveness from God for what he was about to do to 200 plus young men just trying to help. At 6:20 a.m. the truck drove directly into the lobby and detonated. Smoke sprang into the air as the barracks disappeared from sight. This was the worst American lose of life in one day even before that of Vietnam. Some men helped as explosions began to jolt the underbelly of the barracks. Smoke and flames spit out of the rubble as ammunitions under were ignited. Now only one smell sticks out, the burning, the ash, and the hate. My grandmother use to tell me that my Uncle Joe would come to her sometimes as an apparition, Floating on a lake in Maine one summer she sat on a park bench. It was the first time since his death that as a couple they had gone on vacation. She told me of the guilt she felt but he came to her with a smile. His countenance, fair skinned, cleanly shaven, “looking like an angel“, she said. He’s whispering to me, “I am ok”. Beirut, A city of ghosts and wisps in the mountain side as it collects and teardrops into the Mediterranean sea. Glossy from the setting sun 26 years and a week later I stand below the blessed Mary’s open arms on the mountain in Harissa. As she looks at a city with pity. I almost felt as if she might have been shaking her head with those pupiless eyes. “What have you done?”, she would say. “why?” Lebanon an open wound, scarred and rebuilt on calloused land. The beat of the street, November 2009 and I walked over concrete strips destroyed with mortars, lead, and hate. rebuilt over and over for the past 35 years. At peace now but for how long? The signs, graffiti written on the walls “I have become more than a rebel” one says, “another “holier than thou”. The khamsa, the hand of Fatima now gives me the middle finger, “fuck you” it says., “you don’t understand shit so fuck off and go home”! I saw your uncle, your uncle Joe, rounding that corner at full speed, clutching his gun and holding his helmet on top of his head. Slouching in the corner to hide himself from the fire. I was there, I am here. See the page from Time magazine? That was me, that wall shot up, splintered by shrapnel. I was here when someone painted me cosmetic, so fuck you, you don’t know shit!” The road blocks painted with the flag of their country and the cedar trees become an eerie painting by Van Gogh. A cypress tree from the windows of his asylum. “Cut me down and look at my rings, my age,. I have seen it all. Look at my scars. If I can grow another branch, shade a poor soul, and give life to another than what are you so upset about. Take your photo and leave me, I stand tall and I’m not going anywhere. The only thing that moves me is the wind ,a power greater than you, Fuck you”. Has this tree come to represent death, despair, a prison and the ever so apparent question, “when will it all stop”? These trees sway in the wind of the passing cars, exhaust choked from jeeps carrying young men armed with machine guns glaring into each vehicle. The green hills , a wall to the east and to the west the glaring shimmer that is the Mediterranean.
Beirut, she is strong and beautiful. A women with many scars that she tries not to speak of. The past is the past. And it is time to move on. I picture Beirut not as a old dying women in a rocking chair repeating the same old stories of her troubled youth. I picture her young and full of life. Standing on the mountain side smiling down onto her people,as they sit in cafes drinking wine while listening to Fayrouz. All sing in harmony- Beirut, ready to show the world what she is made of. “Come to my shores”, she says. “I have a lot to show you”!