Zeina Hashem Beck




To Hamra Street


Every morning Umm Nagi

makes a lousy joke

and stirs our coffee.

We look at her dirty nails,

we hold the warm plastic cups and


across streets that are endless

in their endless repetitions,

small labyrinths

we have memorized,

familiar labyrinths

in which we get lost on purpose:


Here is the yellow coffee shop

and another,

and another,

where our fathers curl politics

with their cigar smoke

all day,

and measure poetry

with their sugar spoons

and say,

“The situation is bad again,

it is bad again.”


Here is Modca,

the ancient coffee shop,

where cigarette smoke clings to the walls

like a wild plant that sprouts

voices and memories and small conversations.

Here is Modca,

the ancient coffee shop,

turning into a Vero Moda,

no more spoons or smoke or the clatter of cups,

history buried in clothes,

outshone by Starbucks.


Here is the tiny cassette shop

in which the fat man barely fits,

in which the fat man sings and spits,

and nods and nods,

as if to God,

saying business is slower than old age,

releasing Arabic music

into crowded streets that move

to the inborn beat,

here is the tiny cassette shop,

and another,

and another.


Here is the deserted movie theater

where the bald man sighs

into a red telephone,

then shouts at his wife,

then cries

his bills and anger away,

you’d never expect


inside the smell of old semen

and posters of movies that never really play.

Here is the deserted movie theater,

and another,

and another.



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