Ali

By Zeina Hashem Beck

He wasn’t a beggar,
just someone who asked
for a smoke and talked to himself.
His right hand traced sentences
into broken circles
near his tilted head,
his eyes had seen
beyond language, couldn’t find
their way back. His cigarette,

 

always hanging at a certain
angle between his lips,
almost parallel to his nose,
was his only anchor to the real world.

 

The people at West House
would sometimes give him a free haircut.
No one knew where he slept.
I think we believed he didn’t,
that he just ceased to exist
beyond the corner.

 

We never saw him seated,
just a familiar pedestrian
who roamed the same
side of the street every day,
as if the distance
between Abu Naji and Universal were
the whole Mediterranean sea.
He walked and walked yet stayed
in place. Or maybe he didn’t.

 

One day he pointed to a car,
said it was a Russian tank, named
the year it was manufactured.
Sometimes he gave random lectures
about communism.
We said hello or we didn’t,
he replied or he didn’t.

 

There were rumors
he was a professor gone mad,
that his whole family was killed
before him during the war,
but no one really knew anything
for sure about him, except that he was
as much a part of Bliss Street
as the students, the sidewalk, the fast food,
that he was one of the possible
definitions of the city.