Zeina Hashem Beck

Fi Yom Wi Leila

Spare me this Arab love for dictators tonight.
Come closer, listen—Warda is singing,
Fi Yom Wi Leila. This day, this night, let us.
Push this talk of the land to the side. Spare me
this Arab love for conspiracy tonight. Lower your voice
to the sound of my pupils. Look at me. Let’s music
instead, let’s cigarette, let’s wine and laughter. Let’s call
friends. Remember how our mothers used to serve
cigarette packs on trays to their guests?
Fi Marlboro, fi Viceroy, fi Gitanes, they said.
Every house had them cigarette trays. Some nights, the politics
settled with the ashes, and the jokes came, the clapping,
the Allah Allah rising with the smoke, the dancing. Time tortures
everyone. Let’s heal a little. Ask me if I could ever
love again. Let’s exaggerate. Ask me if there will ever be
arms like mine. Warda is singing she’d been missing you
even before she’d met you. I missed you before I met you too.
And now, habibi, even more, even more.

      Warda refers to Warda Al Jazairia, a famous Algerian singer. Fi Yom Wi Leila is one of her songs, and it translates as “in a day and a night.”
      “Fi Marlboro, fi Viceroy, fi Gitanes” means “there’s Marlboro, there’s Viceroy, there’s Gitanes.”


             (after Majnun Layla)

Love is not complicated.
I die among the rocks, the beasts,
shaded by your memory, Layla.

Shaded by your memory,
I roam this desert, tear
at my clothes, ramble until
I hear someone call, Layla.

I hear someone call, Layla,
and words beat their wounded wings
out of my heart, my mouth. When travelers ask
what I write in the sand, I tell them I live
inside the letters of your name.

Only inside the letters of your name—L-a-y-l-a—
I wake. I am halved, like a line of poetry:
here the silence, the sun scorches, my grave
calls, offers no forgetting; here the night,
named after you, cloaks me with hope
to go near your tent again.

To go near your tent again, to kneel
facing you, not Mecca. My father took me
to the Prophet’s grave, once,
said, Perhaps you’ll find another song.
I circled the Ka’aba, prayed, Layla, Layla.
I don’t want to heal from worshipping you—
let them call me majnun.

Call me majnun, Layla.
I freed gazelles from my trap because they reminded me of you.

What food for those already dead
of hunger? Tell me, did he
kiss you in the morning?
Let me, then, dive into the dark
flame of this night, this layla.

      Majnun is Arabic for “crazy,” and refers here to the seventh-century Arabic poet, Qays Bin Al-Mulawwah. He is known as “Majnun Layla,” which is Arabic for “crazy about Layla.”
      The story is that Qays Bin Al-Mulawwah fell in love with Layla, but her father didn’t allow them to get married. He is said to have lost his mind and exiled himself into the wilderness, where he spent his time composing love poems for her. This poem references some anecdotes about the two lovers.
      The name Layla means “one night.”