Karen Ream Bonoff

Attending the Huffli
An Arabic Rap

Auntie, past eighty, 
under five feet
between high heels, high hair, 
says my sweater-too-casual
has to go.
She opens her closet of shawls, opinions...
gaudy, gangly tired limbs. 
I reach for a black wrap
with silver threads:
woven tinsel to wear,
extension of my hair.
Auntie says:  
"I have to be honest,
I invited you because I needed a ride".
I feel the drums pulse inside,
way down, low down
somewhere 'cross town.

Arriving at the Lebanese Hall,
a backyard of barbeques 
smoking like many men 
at their argilis—still 
within the city limits.
I think about translating
DEQ in Arabic—
the kabobs hit a universal breeze: 
not toxic, intoxicating.
Greetings unabating:
a kiss per cheek,
a back rub as we
huddle in the Hall, 
a bevy of Bedouins who seek
an oasis from the week.

A seat of honor
at Uncle Fritz's side
as he holds hands with his
once child bride.
Samara from Osaya
lights a cigarette,
throws her head back,
sends a halo to find
the No Smoking sign.
Uncle asks about 
my mom, his sister.
I whisper
that she is on the mend.
The Hall murmurs and
here come the kin
again, more kisses brought in 
with dishes of love: chopped, rolled
and skewered.

From the stage, 
music joins the conversations.
All gestures made
in rhythm and grace.
Stories of the Old Country
spark eyes in ageless faces
as I learn of the places 
where relatives come and go
to strengthen their soul.
I stuff in the images
like the chunks of feta
in my flat bread,
adding olives
black and round
as the eyes of the babes
cradled at the tables. 

The electric violin moans
in minor key
as two men, side by side, 
stride into the dubke.  
They look down at their
feet as if to say:
take us there
and off they go, circling 
the room like sails 
in the Mediterranean air,
joined by a flotilla
of feet as the line lengthens,
lifts and shifts,
hops and drops. 

The beat of the derbeke
binds the band 
as the singer's voice
twists and turns   
like the grapevines
holding up
the hills of Baskinta.
I think of the family church
in Lebanon
and the singer is the preacher
and his followers respond
with a slow wave,
hip trance belly dance.  
Memories of places I 
have never been fasten to me
like religion, like sin. 

—Karen Ream Bonoff

Huffli: a get-together; in this instance to raise funds for a church renovation for a family church in Lebanon.
Argilis: large water pipes used for smoking tobacco.
Dubke: traditional mountain dance of the Middle East.

This poem was originally published as a chapbook in collaboration with the William Stafford Special Collections at Lewis and Clark College.

© Karen Ream Bonoff. All rights reserved. The contents of this page may not be copied or reprinted, either physically or electronically, without permission from the author. For more information, contact Karen Ream Bonoff.