Friday, October 23, 2015

I Wish I'd Written This

For Lebanon
By Rhie Azzam

I've been saying I'm going to write about this for weeks,

but the truth is,

I don't know if I can

I don't know how to make beautiful devastation.

See I hear "Lebanon"

I see red stripes and a cedar tree.

They tell me that 60 people were killed in a village outside of Beirut,

I see Aunt Ragida

The first female pharmacist in the history of Lebanon

I see a woman who overcame so much,

broke free from tradition,

and followed her dreams,

I see myself in the mirror at three years old,

she's in front of me,

wiping her make up off of my face,

laughing, joyous, loving.

They broadcast the score

Israel-29 Lebanon-300

I see Uncle Osmat,

the one I've spoken with my whole life,

the one I've never met because

he was fighting this battle the year I was born.

I hear his voice, "anuphebic, habiti"

He tells me his home is gone

I see her,

it's 10:30, it's been a long day, and all she can think about

is brushing her teeth

14 yrs old,

with a head full of dreams she can never chase,

hearts she will never break,

knowledge she will never share,

in a bomb ridden slumber,

she's no longer here.

I don't want more people to die,

I don't want devastation for my family,

I read about 100,000 people having no place to call home,

and I picture

5 adults, 6 children,


over a pharmacy.

The thing is,

there is no solution.

there is no hope

this war on terrorism has cost me my hope

my country is killing my people

and i am more helpless than i have ever been.

and what is war but

terrorism with a bigger budget?

I want to scream, shout, tear the roof off

but what's the use?

My anger gets me nowhere but angry,

my hate won't save my heritage

these are all emotions not worth feeling anyway,

because there is nothing i can do to save them

and bitching about it gets me nowhere.

i pray

i pray to Kali, Buddah, Christ, God, Nefertiti, Diana, Lakshmi, Thor, Zeus, Mohammed, Allah, Yaweh, I pray to the god in all of you,

I pray my family lives to see tomorrow,

I pray my cousins will be granted the luxury of life,

I pray my aunt becomes a grandmother,

I pray to God they get through this.

I want the world to see,

I want every executive, vp, banker, homeless, broken hearted, cynic, idealist, poet, artist, musician to see

that this isn't some nameless, faceless fight,

this is life,

and it deserves better.

Although this powerful piece was written some years ago, sadly its sentiments could apply to many parts of the Middle East today.

I met Rhie when I visited Austin, Texas in 2006, at an open mic in a café called The Hide-Out.

I was enthralled by the dynamic poetry I heard there, and no-one was more dynamic than Rhie. She strode out on the stage, completely owning it, and performed a fierce, angry poem in a strong voice, with assured gestures. I was going to say she belted it out, but that would be doing her an injustice; it was not a rushed or careless performance as that might imply. She followed it with a tender poem to a dead friend, recited in a much gentler way, moving many of us to tears.

We fell into mutual love and respect immediately, as poets and women. I was only in Texas for a few weeks, but I made some permanent friends and she’s one of them. She’s decades younger than me, and I expect we’ll never see each other in person again, but our shared poetic and socio-political sensibilities transcend such trivia as age and geography. (Of course, the internet and social networking are a big help.) 

Originally from Dallas, she studied Sociology at the University of North Texas. When I met her she was homeless and unemployed, yet with no loss of personal dignity. She tells me she was homeless off and on between 2000 and 2006, attended several semesters during that period, and that for four years she hitch-hiked around the US, crossing the country 13 times, a feat she’s proud of.

Since then she’s changed her circumstances. She has a job and a home, and has now been happily married for three years. Still quite a young woman, she says about herself:

‘I've been writing since I was 12 as a way to hear myself think. My future cult will be called "amare." I want so badly to not be one of those hippie dippy folks traipsing the world with love on my tongue, but some day I hope we will remember that love will bind us. And then, maybe, we could feed the hungry (which I am blessedly no longer), house the poor, offer safety to those fleeing death. "All you need is love," or so I've been sung to all my life, but perhaps love + action is the better plan.’

The poem I chose for you is sad and outraged, and also full of love – for her family, her homeland, and for Life.

You can find more of Rhie’s powerful writing at her blog,  Words I Live By.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. Tears. I too pray, and this poem is a goad to more prayer and action. I felt that I was hearing and seeing the poet as I read--all the rhythms are there and all the helplessness and love proportioned out to see and feel. My gut hurts. Thank you for introducing Rhie, Rosemary.

  2. Rosemary thanks for another awesome presentation. It was wonderful your sharing This Azzam with us today

    Much love...

  3. This poem is so dramatic, esp. when the poet shows with such warms the real people behind the wars/death...Blessings and pray, 'I hope we will remember that love will bind us.' - Love these words....Thank you, Rosemary for meeting with Rhie Azzam.

  4. I am reading this through tears .... I will go back and read the interview - but I truly hope that this poem has been published and will be read and FELT widely and as deeply as it has cut a forever place in my heart. Thank you Rosemary and all my love and peaceful energy for Rhie Azzam - something a beauty born from the ashes of such horrific devastation. Continue writing and being Rhie - you are the legacy of beauty beyond the ugliness.

  5. Rosemary, this is one of the most moving poems I have read in a long time. And her story, as you shared it, is even more moving. I went to her blog & found more poetry there. She is an example of the triumph of the human spirit, I think. A strong woman. A survivor. A poet. Thank you for this one!

  6. Thank you, for sharing this powerful poem and poet. :)

  7. Oh, my friend, this poem sank straight into my heart. So sorry to be late arriving, this day has been so busy I have not been online at all. What a poem this is - Rhie makes the political personal as only a poet with a huge heart can do. I see all of the people she writes about, feel their circumstance as one cannot when reading statistics. I, too, could feel her presence through her powerful words. I especially resonate with "War is just terrorism with a bigger budget". Oh my God, yes, it is. Rhie, write on with all the force of your pen. I, too, hope this poem is widely read. New York Times, maybe????

  8. God - I do wish I'd written this, I do! This is the poetry I should be writing, I will go back to writing. Rhie writes from that place of such passion - it's like blood on the page, and her helplessness is so palpable and fierce, she makes me - a peacenik-dove - want to take up arms, want to march in the streets, want to believe in something - anything - just to make it stop. I hope she continues to write her rage, and her softer stuff as well. She is the epitome of a political poet - a Carolyn Forche for the new ages ... (not that I would abandon Forche anytime soon) - thank you for introducing her to us. She rocks, and I won't soon forget her.

  9. Man, I love this line: "I don't know how to make beautiful devastation."

    ... this section:
    "it's been a long day, and all she can think about
    is brushing her teeth
    14 yrs old,
    with a head full of dreams she can never chase,
    hearts she will never break"

    ...and this: "my hate won't save my heritage"

    P.S. The poetess is hot.

  10. This poem touched me in a way that I have not been touched for a long time. I know about Lebanon a bit. Thanks for the introduction.

    Greetings from London.

  11. This is poetry that touch the heart. This is poetry that should be read, when it boils down to luxury of living we have set it in perspective.

  12. Many years ago Lebanon was a country in the middle east that seemed to thrive on co-existence but sadly all that is now gone. Hope is being lost and even countries accepting in their attitudes in color, religion and politics are becoming wary. Fear is being generated and hope is being lost. Let's hope any survivors set their minds on love and peace and acceptance. Thank you for showing us the truth of this horror which is so close to us all.

  13. Thank you Rosemary for bringing us in touch with Rhie's powerful, beautiful poetry. There's no question this was written from the heart, which is the source of all good poetry.

  14. I ECHO AND SECOND ALL COMMENTS ... when I replied immediately after reading this morning I was so blown away that I was quite inarticulate .... Bravo Rhie Azzam ... and yes, visit her blog her poems are brilliant and searing.

  15. amazing poem by Rhie. This is how a displaced person feels like. the raw power in the poem almost moved me to tears. really. you wonder why what all those fighting was for.

  16. What an inspirational post and young woman - i honestly don't know how many of us would survive without words..though not all face such real and dangerous challenges..whatever we experience and look back on sometimes seems impossible to describe but that in itself opens up the 'story' perhaps?


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