January 5, 2017

Zeina Hashem Beck

PANTOUM FOR SABBOUHA

The diva is dead, who sang about the hours,
who could dress the toughest mawwal in glitter,
who knew a voice can be fearless.
My earliest singing memory is of her—

who else could dress the toughest mawwal in glitter?
I repeated her habibis in our living room:
my earliest singing memory is of her,
and Mom, showing me off to our guests.

I repeated her habibis in our living room,
I imitated the walk, the hands,
and Mom (showing me off to our guests).
I had no fear of age, of death.

I imitated the walk, the hands
back then, the way she dared to say batata.
“I had no fear of age, of death,”
she could’ve said in an interview, “No fear of men.”

Back then, the way she dared to say batata,
shock people, marry again, mix love with honey.
She could’ve said in an interview, “No! Fear of men?
Yes, Rushdi Abaza was the best kisser.”

Shock people. Marry again. Mix love with honey.
Don’t be afraid, just sing it,
yes, Rushdi Abaza was the best kisser.
Sabbouha means Sabah means morning.

“Don’t be afraid, just sing it,”
Mom urged me in the living room.
“Sabbouha means Sabah means morning,”
she said. Not mourning with a “u.” Yes, that thing that shines.

from 3arabi Song
2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

[download audio]

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Zeina Hashem Beck: “Sabbouha refers to Sabah, famous Lebanese diva who died in November 2014, at the age of 87. She was one of the Arab world’s best-known entertainers. A mawwal is an Arabic genre of vocal music that is performed before the actual song begins. Batata is Arabic for ‘potato.’ Rushdi Abaza was a well-known Egyptian actor.” (website)

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