Robin Moger Does Sargon Boulus

Meeting with an Arab poet in exile

Cedars of Lebanon, American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Dept, Lebanon, 1900-20. Source:

Cedars of Lebanon, American Colony (Jerusalem). Photo Dept, Lebanon, 1900-20. Source:

At that outcast and lonely hour,
that hour of night when choices narrow
until each absence takes on meaning as a cloud of smoke,
between the voices of the drunken patrons in that small restaurant
and the wash of the still sea that beats, below, against its rocky shore,
at that outcast hour of night, that lonely hour,
he talked to me of the legendary poets of exile
and how he’d known them in his youth, he
who still followed the same path,
and from an ancient notebook
which bore on its cover the cedar of Lebanon
began to read aloud his long two-columned poems.

He’d known them all,
from The Apollo Group to The Pen League,
Rashid Ayoub, Iliya Abu Madi, Abu Shadi and the rest,
but chose the endless road, wandered
the world, sortied and sallied through the Americas,
not always lion-like (he gave me a wink);
he had brought down more than one gazelle in the Chicago snows,
been shot at by more than one doe-eyed maid on the banks of the Amazon
among them a mulatto girl of red-hot beauty—she chased him still—
who’d borne him a child in some jungle on his way.
He’d been a tour guide
guiding tourists from Miami to Brazil
through cities whose names I’d never heard, a chef
on a ship that crossed the Caribbean,
had tasted strange fruit, had brushes with death, Destroyer of Delights,
on more than one occasion,
(had been, for a while, a smuggler);
Indeed, there’d been a time, my friend,
a time when he had called himself a prince
and owned a row of houses
until the treacherous partner had appeared like Fate
followed, in search of forgetting, by drink
then women and their wiles, then thieving lawyers circling his head
like hawks, then the face of the Ashkenazi judge
like the ill-omened kite flapping over
the mound of garbage, then the abyss
of penury
and here he was
at last in San Fransisco where
the final storm had cast him years before
worn out by travel, cooking from midnight
till dawn, in this restaurant overlooking the sea and called The Lighthouse,
for these night birds, these wastrels,
but he explained to me that things had always been thus,
were always always always thus
and reminded me that Khalil Mutran
had opened a store selling charcoal in some city of exile
(Rio de Janeiro? He, conceivably over sixty, forgot the place)
where, as one customer left laden
and another with empty bags looked in at the door
he would pen in his ledger
lines of verse.
He said his goodbyes smiling
and waving his notebook in the air
and I saw him return to his stoves and the smoke rise up
anew, the notebook put back on a shelf
on which a ragged copy of Jibran’s The Prophet could be seen.
I saw his smoke rise again.
I saw anew the cedar on his notebook.

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