Al wadi (the valley)

Growing up,
I could not understand why
Fayrouz sang for her Shadi;
a distant relative
I had not seen since I was five.

His wadi seemed to be
a world of binaries;
of haves and have nots
of before and after shots
that dropped a cause to each effect
and shuttered sepia images
of naked Vietnamese girls
running away from
star speckled dreams,

you see-

Before I understood
why Fayrouz cried for her Shadi,
my wadi woke up to the
battlesongs of kettle and stove,
waited its turn at the table to eat,
flirted with the curves
of my mother’s back
as she lego blocked rainbows
on our verandah sill

my  wadi was forgetful
of gravity and time
left every jabal open
to the echoes of helloes and goodbyes,
was not afraid when it lost its way home
because every home held a friend
and every friend was a home.

You see

I never understood why Fayrouz
wept for her Shadi
until after rose its head
above the waters of my wadi;
swallowed goodbyes from stillborn days
pumped eyes into bloated balloons
that burst from the effect of your cause


After found Shadi,
knocked his knees like dominoes
until he prayed the wrong way;
turned his streets into open heart surgery
and alleys into 1920s bars,

cigar smoke down low

After did not question
where the gangsters
came from or why
they lit fires on scorched grounds,
and shot down wrong
but somehow always missed right.

After made
my world binary
of haves and have nots,
of before and after shots,
an effect lost to your cause
because victory is a crescent
that you noose around my freedom

Still my arms I raise
in deflated salute
to the bullet that
refuses to fire the shot
that killed Shadi
because in my wadi,
Shadi still plays hide and seek
and prays that those who seek
no longer have to hide.

And now I know
why Fayrouz longs for her Shadi
for every generation has its Shadi,
who is lost to his wadi,
and mine is Alan.

For Aleppo.


  • Al wadi = the valley
  • Wadi = valley
  • Jabal = mountain
  • Fayrouz= Lebanese singer who sang ‘Ana w Shady‘ (Shadi and I), a song about the children who died in the Lebanese civil war. In the song, she tells how she used to play with a boy called Shadi near the wadi, and one day when the war came, she called his name but he didn’t answer. Twenty years pass, and she grows up while Shadi remains a boy playing in the snow.

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