The Roots

When your well’s all dried up and you need to replenish sometimes it’s good to go back to the source.

It’s good to go back to the roots.

I headed down to a poetry slam organized in some forgotten street in Beirut. The place looked like a club and hoisted several paintings and artistic decorations. Paintings and drawings and illustrations of cubism and modern art fell like banners from the walls.

There was a small stage set up for the performers. The turnout was a small group of people but the atmosphere was electric.

I hadn’t felt that much enthusiasm for poetry since the last time I sat down to dabble with a poem.

The audience was mostly composed of young adults, young college students or high school seniors or recently employed citizens still struggling with their world. They came in here to push for answers or maybe be pointed to the right questions. They all seemed eager yet unaware of the play they’d just set foot in.

Their faces were alight like the faces of children receiving new presents. Or like the faces of young teenagers smuggling smokes and pot and a chicha to their dorm rooms behind their supervisor’s back.

It was a new form of curiosity, or a revival of an old one. How many times do you get the chance to experience this sudden yet guilty excitement – the anticipation for something you know is insignificant in the long run but defining the moment you experience it?

They were like me. They were my tribe, my people. These people came here as a result of a search – much like I did.

I thought about things. I thought about a lot of things I wish I could remember. But I was a bit hammered from the drinks I had before coming to this thing. I was nervous – the same way any guy would be meeting a new girl for the first time.

Girls. I thought about the girls I knew and how they were somehow responsible for me ending up here on this Saturday night. There were some of them I liked, some of them I loved, some of them I drank with or wrote about or simply touched. God, the girls I touched and wished no one else would ever touch after me. No, I used to say inside my head and then repeat to them out loud, no one will ever touch you. Everyone else is forbidden from touching you or laying their eyes on you.

But those were empty words, a bunch of empty promises a bad promise-keeper like me could never maintain or keep.

So they drove me here. They drove me to this asylum (or purgatory). It made sense for me to be here. I just didn’t know how to explain it.

Was it because it was the birth of true art in the heart of Beirut for one of the rare times in the city’s recent history? Was it because I too was a writer and indulged in it?

But I was a silly writer, an unconfident writer who took the matter way too seriously in the modern world of today. I still starved for it, banished myself from others for it and sacrificed important things like love and friendships for it.

I wasn’t the best at it. Hell, I wasn’t even very good at it. I barely liked reading my own books. And if the characters I portrayed and wrote about were to gain life, they’d hold up a large stick and beat me with it for the things I made them endure.

I guess I still haven’t found the secret to it. The secret of the mesmerizing magic it could protrude and the frustrations it could yield at the same time.

Maybe there was no secret. Maybe there was just an invisible path leading to this place – or places like this – to meet others who were lost like me or searching for something untouchable and unnamable like me.

I stood in the back and listened to the flow of poetry. Some of it was beautiful. Some of it was dreadful. All of it was touching. Sometimes you listen to a bad song in a specific setting and think this song is right for the moment. Then you take the same song and listen to it again on your own and realize it was never a great song. It just fit the moment and the setting.

Poetry was like that. It complimented certain scenarios, certain settings, and there was enough of it to go around for any situation.

Anything could be put to words. Anything could be turned into poems. And after watching these performers in front of me, I started thinking about all the things and people I’d put into words and poems.

Some of them were good and some of them were bad things. But they were all there, documented in artistically crafted research papers and exposed to the world. They were part of a study that had no thesis, no basis and no conclusion.

The only summary to take from all of it was that sometimes we did these things. We did them not out of reflection or logic or thorough thinking, but out of emotions and heart. These things were untameable and full of chaos. They were also beautiful and warming.

Somewhere in the world a wolf howled. The night was still falling and the poetry was still going around like a mystic chant. Somewhere inside me part of the things and the people I wrote about awoke and started to roar in my intestines. There it was, the urge to write again. The urge that had stabbed me in the back a while ago after I’d extended my hand to it and offered it a flower.

But no matter how cruel it could get and treat you, you realize you’re the one who needs it. You’re the one who’s left empty without it. So you stand there in the cold, in the rain, in the dryness, in the heat and keep extending that flower to it.

And one day, it finally picks it out of your hand. It picks it and plucks it or tears it into a million pieces. But it rewards you graciously in return with a few lines or a few verses to write about and possibly cement on your tombstone when you’re gone.

These things come back to you, and when they do you feel you’ve known them all along – you just needed a reminder of why you’re so deep into them.

Maybe it was never about the things or the people you wrote about. Maybe it was never even about you. But something drew you here – the art, the atmosphere, the performers – and once you got there you knew you recuperated part of yourself.


Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, available on Amazon Kindle for 2.99$ and now in hard copy.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl


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