Content Tagged ‘House Guest’

House Guest: Zeina Hashem Beck

Zeina Hashem Beck’s poems, “The Woman in Our House,” “Asmahan,” and “Listen” appear in Ecotone 21. In the piece below, Zeina tells us about the process of writing 3arabi Song, using a glossary of some of the Arabic words in the chapbook.

3arabiCovWriting 3arabi Song: A Glossary of Arabic Terms

Tarab: a kind of Arabic music. The word is also used to describe the emotional effect of this music on the listener, who is almost in a state of trance.

Tarab: When Mom began an Umm Kulthum song in the kitchen, Dad replied from the corridor. When my parents’ friends came over, everyone sang. The only video footage my parents have of me as a toddler is me singing in the middle of a living room, surrounded by clapping adults. This was Lebanon in the ’80s, during the civil war. Every day at lunch or dinner, Dad made the same joke about a line from a famous Abdel Halim song – a line about how time was coming to heal us.

Ya’aburnee: literally means “you bury me.” A term of endearment, often used by Arab mothers, expressing their desire to die before their children, rather than live without them. Can’t be translated in one word.

Ya’aburnee: Three summers ago, my cousin was shot dead on the street in Tripoli, Lebanon. My aunt sat in her living room, crying and singing about her asmar, her dark-skinned boy. That same summer, two Tripoli mosques were bombed. I don’t know how many people have buried loved ones in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine. How to write the untranslatable?

3arabi: the Arabizi way of writing “Arabic.” Arabizi” comes from the combination of “Arabic” and “Englizi” (English); it uses numbers to represent sounds that are specifically Arabic, and has become well-known among Arabic speakers (especially online and in texting).

3arabi: One of the books we had in our house in Tripoli was a big, blue, French-Arabic/Arabic-French dictionary. It’s one of the earliest books I remember going through; I liked its thick cover, its smell, its thin pages, its weight. Looking back now, I find it interesting that, like me, it was bilingual. Like many Lebanese, I attended a French school then an American University. I feel I live in many languages, and so does 3arabi Song. But living in many languages means using the language of the colonizer, the Empire – do I forgive myself? And how do I break English to create a space for my 3arabi self inside it?

Ra7eel: departure | 3awda: returning

Ra7eel | 3awda: In one of the first stories I wrote as a little girl, I gave my character a very Western name: Grace. I remember struggling to come up with it because, in my little girl’s mind, I probably thought, Who names their characters Zeina or Ahmad? Who sets a story in Tripoli? One thing 3arabi Song says is, Oh for God’s sake, who the hell is Grace?

Bahr: the sea. Also means “meter” in Arabic poetry.

Bahr: The sea isn’t always merciful. Refugees keep drowning in the Mediterranean. And poetry seems simultaneously useles and powerful. But language is what I do, so I do it.

Habibi: my love.

Habibi: I lose count of how many times a day I use the word habibi. I lose count of Allah too.

Allahu Akbar: God is greater.

Allahu Akbar: These words didn’t use to invoke fear, or beheadings. When I visited the US for the first time last year, I wanted to read the poem “Adhan,” which contains the words Allahu Akbar. My husband worried some people in the audience might not get it, might be scared. He also worried some people in the Arab world might be offended. This is what happens when you live in the liminal. I read the poem.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second collection, Louder than Hearts, has won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 smith|doorstop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. She lives in Dubai, where she has founded and runs PUNCH, a poetry and open mic collective. Zeina’s readings often have a strong performative quality, and she has participated in literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

House Guest with Jamie Quatro: Moments of Arrival

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors and cover artists, as well as editors from peer presses and magazines, to tell us what they’re working on, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask.

Jamie Quatro’s story “Wreckage” appears in Ecotone’s Anniversary Issue.


Tshoka: we stayed our first and third nights

Last January my daughter and I traveled to Sikkim, a restricted state in northern India nestled between Bhutan and Nepal. After spending a few days at a home for Tibetan refugees and other at-risk girls, we took a four-day trek in the Himalayas, up to fifteen thousand feet. It was a cushy trek, as treks go: Nepali cooks came with us, and dzos (half-yak half-cow) carried the bulk of our gear. Still, even with just our daypacks to carry, the hike was challenging, especially as we began to experience the effects of elevation. On the second day the climb became sharply vertical. We moved at a painfully slow pace, using the mountaineering “rest step,” in which you lock out your downhill leg to put the weight on the skeleton versus the muscles.

At night we slept in rustic huts. We were days out of reach of any communication. Other than our occasional conversation, the dzo bells as they neared and then passed us, and the wind, I mostly listened to myself breathe. On the trail, away from “civilization,” halfway around the planet, the smallest comforts became huge. My tiny tube of rose-scented moisturizer; the one pack of pre-moistened wipes I’d brought along; my down jacket. Over and over I found myself silently blessing Patagonia, the attention to technical design elements which mean little in the urban, southern U.S. but mean everything on the trail in temperatures that fluctuate from twenty-three degrees Celsius during the day to below zero at night—like cinch cords inside the pockets, so you don’t have to remove your hands to tighten the waistband. I developed an almost passionate attachment to my Nalgene water bottle. The cooks boiled water over an open fire at night so we could fill our bottles before bed. I’d slide my piping hot Nalgene into a sock and stuff it into my sleeping bag for warmth. By morning the water would be cold again, ready for an electrolyte tablet and rationed sipping.


The summit at Dzongri

But the thing that could (and did) bring me to tears was—after hours of trekking—the sight of prayer flags along the trail. The prayer flags meant we were approaching a place of rest: a summit, plateau, holy lake, or temple. Every time I saw the bright flash of red and blue, green and yellow in the trees or rocks ahead, I felt connected, again, to the world-at-large. Others have been here before you; others will follow. At the summit in Dzongri there were flags everywhere—wrapped around stupa-shaped rocks and strung between bushes. Flags upon flags upon remnants of flags. The idea is the circularity of existence, life replacing death replacing life. The greatest human accomplishments—the highest peaks we’re capable of reaching—even this is fragile, will fade and blow off. There was something about being at that elevation, above the welter and noise below, that reminded me of the space out of which writing comes. This is where, in a spiritual sense, I need to exist as a writer, I thought. Away from “the industry,” the constant chatter, the noise of readings and conferences. Of course those things have a place. But it’s not the place the work comes from. The work requires silence, rest, a kind of holiness, and—so important—non-attachment. You can’t write in total freedom until you’re okay with the fact that you might not keep a single word. The possibility that none of it may make it into print.

Unknown-2After the trek, at the Tibetan Refugee Center in Darjeeling, I bought an embarrassing number of prayer flags to take home as gifts. I’d planned to hang the ones I kept outside, as one is supposed to: let them deteriorate in the elements, kindness and compassion spreading out into the world. But when I got home I tied together several lengths and strung them above the kitchen table where I work. I like to equate showing up to the page each day—whether the pages are ones I write or edit—with those moments of arrival in the Himalayas. I like the idea of work being holy, connected to the past, a form of active rest. I like to show up each day remembering the silence at the summit. In some ways, I think my work is a way to practice staying there.

Jamie Quatro is the author of the story collection I Want To Show You More, a 2013 New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Another story collection and a novel are forthcoming from Grove. A contributing editor at Oxford American, she lives with her family in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.