That day, the streets of Beirut hum
on his way home. Vendors, with their roasted
chestnuts and salty chickpeas, entice him.
He walks past the newsstand boy,
heralding the latest “ceasefire” headlines,
but my father ducks into doorways anyway.
He is afraid of the holes in basements,
big enough to fit a barrel through; he knows
it is easy to be a sniper’s target, as easy
as stepping into a pothole, twisting a knee,
as arbitrary as the color of your shirt,
the allegiance you are mistaken for.
Closer still, he rounds the last corner,
walks the forty-five steps to his house,
kicks over the empty can of rat poison by the door.
It is near dusk; the red moon reflects
an errant leg: a game of hide-and-seek?
He tells his brother to get up off the floor.
But what he hasn’t yet seen are the eye sockets
the color of ripe apricots, the foaming mouth,
the depression of body into wood,
and the cavalier hand cupped casually
around his head, in salute,
as if to welcome my father home.
The smell of tar and almonds
is strongest after morning rain.
At 5 a.m., the neighbors flee
to Latakia on bicycles, baskets full
of bread and ham.
He watches them pedal,
reckless in their rush,
thinks of scurrying rats
with food in their whiskers.
Through his one window:
an upended swing set, overripe apricots
smeared on concrete, the smoking ash
of his best friend’s house.
No one else is above ground;
no slaps of jump rope on pavement,
no rickety chestnut carts, not one
sound except the hissing
of a gas line and a heartbeat
in his ear. His house with the three
walls, his room with the bed beneath
the window, the peeling paint,
the persistent record player,
his slippers, tobacco pipe
and the broken granite
under his feet: what’s left of a life
but the roots?