Beirut (1981)

Thunder from the blast fades slowly
as twin birdsongs of a ricocheting bullet
fall to silence, and I see him
hunched over in a doorway
across the moonscape street,
bare shoulders floured with rock dust
like a bronze pastry,
segmented snake of his spine
prominent in the curl of back,
hands clenching ears.

From this distance and the hair color
I judge him middle-aged,
but as he emerges from his crouch
and turns toward me,
swiping the white from black locks
it is clear he is no more than twelve.

He grabs a piece of rubble and eyes of ink
fasten on mine in fear and suspicion.
I show him empty hands and attempt to smile;
he lowers the chunk of masonry,
glances up and down the pocked road,
darts around the corner on his ragged shoes
and is gone.

A stutter of gunfire some distance away
sounds like Morse code,
but I cannot make out the message,
unless it is Death To All But Mine.
The doorway where I stand
is baking me slowly as a clay oven.
I notice a trickle of blood on my bicep
and pluck out a sliver of metal lodged there—
the inoculation program of Beirut.

I am only a visitor here but after two weeks
it is hard to imagine the world outside,
hard to recall soft green things and the sound of water.
Remembrances of smiling families wandering a park
or sitting in a gleaming ice cream parlor
unconcerned about bursts of rifle fire or exploding cars
seem naive and fanciful, impossible even.
There are only the hate and the weapons and the blood,
the wails of bereft mothers and grieving siblings.

I think of the Lebanese boy
whose image still remains for me
across the street, part of the landscape,
part of the facade of this place but in the end
only another pile of rubble.

Spencer Smith