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Elizabeth Alexander has the genius line, "many things are true at once" which is something that good poems are capable of rendering. I'm so interested in what is emotionally true versus the idea (and violence) of 'factual truth.' There's so much left out of the historical record, so many materials excluded from our personal and collective archives and I believe that if we could hold this knowledge—that so much is true simultaneously, multi-directionally—if we could honor the ways that we are deeply entangled with one another, we might learn  better care for each other and our shared world. Poems help us remember that we can't have too many stories and that we need all of the stories, all of the many true things!

Janan Alexandra is a Lebanese-American poet and MFA candidate at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. You can find her work in Ploughshares, The Rumpus, Mizna, and elsewhere."

Welcome to the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Janan, what poems have you brought for us today?

This is a poem in seven parts. It's called "return."                                                                                                                                 
1
 

we are whirling 

     through Beirut 

the city i visit most

     often in my sleep

i take this to mean

     i am making

my best effort

     to dream in Arabic

where the air is rich

     in orange

flowers & rhyme

     & we draw

back our lips

     to speak

 

 

2
 

               

in the so-called city

that never sleeps

i tight rope along

the edge of cobble-

stones bathed in light

& last week's trash

 

i dream by nose

the heavy stench

of garbage rotting

into the sweet

fresh ka'ak

golden purses

who ride the air

like wooden boats

 

in my ear a moped

twists & guzzles

the pitted road

spitting gravel under

the too slow heel

of somebody's foot

 

 

 

3

 

 

somebody's foot grazes

mine & i find a boy there

 

gazing in at me through

the small eyehole of my sleep

 

i have forgotten his name

until my mother reminds me

 

It's Hani   there in a teal t-shirt

black irises flowering from his eyes

 

 

                                                *

 

 

                                    one summer afternoon

                                    with Hani   we swam & played

 

                                    licking ice pops   sticky lipped

                                    on the stone apartment steps

 

                                    our knees slapping open 

                                    to greet the turquoise sea  

 

                                    we floated weightless

                                    our bodies fanning starfish

 

 

 

                                                                                    *

 

 

                                                                        later that day i received my first

                                                                        lecture on the dangers of touch

 

                                                                        & electricity in Beirut prompted

                                                                        by my smiling disobedience:

 

                                                                        i swung open the refrigerator door

                                                                        to a sudden shock of light jolting

 

                                                                        my arm from inside   a blade

                                                                        zigzagging hot through my bones

 

4

 

 

when asked about his time

in Beirut, Mahmoud Darwish said:

 

"Poetry requires a stable temperature, around twenty degrees Celsius!

Ice and very hot weather kill poetry, and Beirut was boiling.

Boiling with feelings and visions. Beirut was a land of perplexity."

 

 

5

 

 

dear land of perplexity

i think i understand

what the Poet means

 

everyone always clicks

their teeth soberly & says

the situation is very bad

 

& in the same breath

a phoenix   flashes

its firebird wings

 

lifting once more

very bad or not

loving to love to live

 

 

6

 

 

dear secret stairways

painted brightly   sing song

greetings i know & do not know

 

dear orange juice held

in squat paper pouches

sleeves of Nescafé

 

dear mushroom shop

candy stall   your lengths

& ribbons of sweets

 

 

unrolling like the tongue's

lottery tickets    dotted

with pink & blue treats

 

i sling my arm around

your balconies at night

catch myself falling

 

through the house

with windows blown

out   face agape

 

 

7

 

 

as the story goes

we once lived

in a beige house:

 

two parents

two sisters

one black cat

 

two turtles

who left

 

& never

came back.

 

 

You've been listening to the poetry of Janan Alexandra on the Poets Weave. I'm Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. 

poet Janan Alexandra

(Courtesy of the poet.)

Janan Alexandra is a Lebanese-American poet and MFA candidate at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. You can find her work in PloughsharesThe RumpusMizna, and elsewhere."

On this edition of the Poets Weave, Janan reads "return."

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