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Karantina Massacre, 1976, East Beirut

After Françoise Demulder's photograph

That smell stippling down
from the slaughterhouse, metallic,
is Karantina burning.
Smoke builds its honeycomb
then shifts shapes above us—look:
an anvil, a locust husk, the black boot
stomping, at last, to snuff us
as we scuttle behind the tin sheets,
behind the mold-laced walls that slouch
and crumble, behind the rag-shut windows.

Karantina, whose clotheslines crosshatch and loop
around and around the single tree like spiderwebs
—we’re all caught here. Fire or gunfire.
Militiamen cut down the ropes, and
tunics wave to the dirt
like flags of an imaginary country.

When my sons come running it will be
too late. I know this man from a dream,
his masked face, the one-handed way
his gloved fingers hold the rifle skyward.
When they are through, there will be
nothing. Not a fingerprint.

The man steps closer, boot heels
flint against the gravel,
and the fires bloom like a field of poppies
slumping and nodding, petals flung
to the ground, to the smoldering tin that once
balanced the sky on its knife-edge.
In the distance, the cattle low
and shift in their chutes.

And when I hold up my hands to him,
I see in that moment a decade of nights
in Karantina—the tenements and runoff
and slaughterhouse dissolving into absolute dark,
oily dark that slicked over patched roofs
and sloped doors, dark pinned
up by the sharp ends of stars,
dark you could carry,
dark you couldn’t outrun.

This poem appeared in the July 12, 2012 issue of the magazine.