Back to Issue Twenty-Five.

Apokaluptein

BY HAYAN CHARARA


            ١

The Arab apocalypse began around the year
of my birth, give or take—
the human apocalypse,
a few thousand years earlier.  

            ٢

I earn my living
teaching about the human condition, a composite
of violence, vengeance, and theft,
ingenuity, too, and forms of love unique
to men and women, the only species
that knows what others of its kind thought and did
thousands of years before—
stories, myths, histories, philosophies,
mirrors showing humanity to itself,
none of which, by the way, are enough
to ensure our survival.  

            ٣

A mile, a mile and a half from the border,
the Israeli border, Bint Jbeil,
the small city my father left
in nineteen sixty-seven,
its orchards, hillsides, rivers,
roads, highways, bridges,
houses, schools, restaurants, coffee shops,
pharmacies, hospitals, cemeteries,
twice in his lifetime, obliterated. 

            ٤

The Arab apocalypse began in the 1950s and 60s,
in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Iraq—
the human apocalypse,
in 1945, in a desert in New Mexico
where scientists exploded the first atomic bomb.  

            ٥

In Beirut, snipers picked off children sneaking
to buy candy, yet the population grew.

            ٦

In nineteen seventy-two my father paid $9,000
for a house in Detroit.
Forty years later, a foreclosure, it sold for $8,000,
its windows, doors, floors, walls,
the porch, the mailbox,
the tree in front, birch or poplar,
gone—now
weeds and bushes block the drive,
vines where the chimney once was
creep over the rooftop. 

            ٧

“In free fall,” an expert in urban decline
describes Detroit’s population.
At the current rate, by the beginning of the next century,
stray dogs will outnumber people.  

            ٨

Soon as I earned enough to get out, I got out.
Still a street comes to mind,
Forest, Grand, St. Aubin, Lafayette,
or the bridge over the river
to Belle Isle, or the tunnel lights
before Joe Louis
before Joe Louis was demolished,
or, disappearing
in a rear-view mirror, the horizon
with smokestacks, which once
upon a time I believed no other on earth
could match in perfection.   

            ٩

The Arab apocalypse began on a piece of paper
in 1917—
the human apocalypse,
50,000 years ago,
when hunters wiped out
the giant kangaroo.  

            ١٠

In politics, practically nothing is new.
Twenty-four hundred years ago
Plato worried about speech-acts,
what he called “craft,” the crowd
swayed so easily by emotion and flattery,
the failures to follow. 

            ١١

Today, which poems will cause institutions to fail?
Who worries about that?  

            ١٢

The city was here when lust lured us
away from the animals,
when kings and the children of gods hunted
side by side in the forests of lesser gods,
when Priam begged for his boy’s broken body,
when Achilles, cruel and beautiful,
chose death for glory, when Abram became
Abraham, and Muhammad
heard God’s voice in a lightning bolt—
it was here,
and the asphalt and concrete
won’t reveal what it was, the rivers
won’t either, or the trees or the soot turning
factory walls and lungs permanently black—
whatever it was,
swamp, forest, glacier,
it was there.  

            ١٣

The apocalypse began
with a thousand hoofbeats
across a field, men
hollering, women wondering
where to hide
the children. “Here,”
a mother said.
“We will hide in the earth—
our ancestors are already there,
the rest will follow.”  

 

 

Charara 25

Hayan Charara’s poetry books are The Alchemist’s Diary (2001), The Sadness of Others (2006), and Something Sinister (2016). He also edited Inclined to Speak (2008), an anthology of contemporary Arab American poetry, and is series editor, with Fady Joudah, of the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize. He is also the author of a children’s book, The Three Lucys, about the July War in Lebanon. He lives in Houston, Texas.