zeina hashem beck

Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary by Zeina Hashem Beck

MOMS_EIn almost every country, in particular those where guns are prevalent, the murder rate is overwhelmingly men killing men; whether in gangs, organised criminal activities, or random acts of violence. Yet, it is women, mothers especially, who are at the forefront of the grieving and action to stop further killings of their sons and partners. In the UK, there are initiatives such as the Mothers Against Violence in Manchester, in a number of US states MOMS Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, there is even a Grandmothers version of this group.

Of course, in zones of conflict and state-sanctioned violence, the pattern is even worse. In Argentina, during military rule in the 70s & 80s, it is estimated that 30,000 people went ‘missing’. It is the mothers, sisters, aunts, who turn up at political institutions, holding pictures of their loved ones who were taken by the junta, asking for information. In the once besieged town of Raqqa in Syria, families are now searching for their men who went ‘missing’ at the hands of Islamic State. And one can only imagine how widespread this is in Syria at the hands of the government.

Beige DressZeina Hashem Beck’s poem, ‘Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary, beautifully tells of the narrator’s relationship with her aunt who lost her son ‘to a shooting on the street’. This is done through the seemingly blunt tool of texting and emoticons, but what is told is poignant, sad, and also uplifting, about a love between an aunt and niece – two women grieving over the loss of another man to gun violence.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her most recent collection, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton NH Poetry Prize. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, won Best of the Net, and appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, World Literature Today, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, and elsewhere. Her poem “Maqam” won Poetry Magazine’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize.


Message from my Aunt on her son’s death anniversary

My aunt, the one who lost a son
to a shooting on the street, the one slowly losing
her sight, sends me voice messages and emoticons,
prayers like A fortress, my love,
protect you from harm in all directions –
above and below you, behind and before you.

Today, the emoticon is an orange.
Perhaps it’s a mistake. Perhaps she means
a kiss, or a heart, or a flower,
her eyes and aging fingers failing her.

But perhaps she means the fruit, remembers
how she used to sing me that song
where I was the orange she wanted
to peel and eat and not share with anyone,

remembers how much I love sour winter oranges,
the way they are round and whole, yet break
into many bright crescents hidden beneath their skin.

Perhaps she’s saying what she always says
when she opens her arms and walks towards me,
I was telling myself you must have arrived.
The whole town smells of oranges when you are here.

Inside Out by Zeina Hashem Beck

The late great Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly had many famous sayings that are repeated to this day. The one that struck me growing up was, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Although I have followed football all my life, I have rarely, if ever Palestine-Logo-Bigworn my team’s shirt. For one, I didn’t want to get beaten up by any wayward away fans; and two, I have never liked the tribal allegiance element of the game nor the violence that lies behind it.

Football is also not devoid of influencing national politics to the point of igniting armed conflict as was the case in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador. The political map influences where teams will play; most notable being that the Israeli national team and its clubs compete in Europe. The Palestinian team was only recognised by FIFA in 1998, but has great potential despite the political and social conditions that surround it. I bought the Palestinian football shirt, as a small act of support when at the large protest march against the war in Gaza last year.

Zeina's PhotoOf course, football is a passion among many people in Gaza and the West Bank, and Zeina Hashem Beck puts that into stark perspective in her heart-breaking poem Inside Out, where she paints a scene of Gaza under attack during the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. “my friend’s mom in Gaza is cheering/for Brazil and Holland/all that orange/burning almost/a sunrise all that/smoke”. Zeina goes back and forth from the football to the terrible scene unfolding, “there’s an old woman/who dies holding/her spoon waiting/for iftar/which comes but so do/the rockets/and the news/Brazil loses to Germany 7-1”. The poem continues without punctuation reflecting the relentless nature of the Israeli bombardment, until the end of the tournament when, “a player kisses a trophy/his wife his son/a mother/kisses a dead child/grief inside out/is resistance” Like Laila Sumpton’s poem ‘Morning Prayers’, Zeina juxtaposes the everyday events we take for granted, such as watching a football match with the tragic situation in which Palestinian people live, in a wholly different type of everyday event. (more…)