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850 million tonnes The Tradition


Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch

850 million tonnes

 months of garbage into the sea, 850 million tonnes 

             last week, it rained in the city of Beirut, locals woke up to a river of trash

    slithering between their houses              it’s going into your sea?        

                            it’s washing back up                onto your  beaches?

                 how awful this garbage, the collection company contract ended, it’s all free governance, corruption, mismanagement      it’s all garbage filled streets

                         the old man on the side of the road, yelling “they threw it into our sea”

                                 to no one                 scooters speeding by on small cobble streets

                 building an incinerator from scratch     a separation of garbage at the source

               a second separation                      a treatment of garbage and recycling       

                          but what type       what standards

             what generation of incinerators        new filters?        old beat up Mercedes speed by

                    large puffs of smoke leaving behind             grey air   

                          the kids on the side of the road begging          for better lungs      

                                        hands grey brown with dust


            he says it requires continuous filtration 

                                                    but our government is not trustworthy

they hold so many solutions     non actionable   

                           without the incinerator      waste management can still happen     

     when  burning everything                   the rest       where is it gonna go 

                     matter doesn't just disappear      trapped in the air 

                                   in the lungs of old women       on the coats of feral cats 

             in the skin of bananas           infused in the oil of kahwa 

                          Lebanese citizens already ahead of the government 

                                       many neighbourhoods recycle on their own expense

                    if there are incentives and trust         many people are ready

      we are always conscious of the danger of the situation

             isn’t that the lebanese way

   to sort your problems without relying

              on your government? 


             it’s a postmodern state, he says to the foreign reporter on the radio 

                                        we know how to live without the state

       and yet fear coats his next words                             within all this

            Beirut is still  charming            a very hospitable city

                         please don’t stop visiting                    tourists line the beaches 

   rushing away in disgust                   British accents less and less present 


he explains:    low-rise buildings demolished       replaced with luxury residential towers 

                         owned by Lebanese expatriates      or foreigners
                                                                 often occupied only seasonally

                                                     fleeing their migrant countries

                                                                  for a small whiff of garbage

the expert on the radio    do not forget him                          urges                    top of his lungs now
       like many problems we’ve gone through

                                      there will always be a solution               weakly, he promises

                           and we citizens are ready to fight for the basics

                                                       the civil movement is very well united

                                                                     and working hard 

                                                                                                 we are united

                                                                                                               no matter religion 

                                                                                                                             or political affiliation

The Tradition

outside, near the depanneur on ogilvy

and hutchison, or close by on querbes and st-roch,
we walk slowly, head bowed down, out of bed
before we make it to the bend

in the road

this feeling of, will they fall out
won’t they fall out 
like apples at the end

of the season

rotted inside, filled with bees
a thud as they hit the ground

or maybe they aren’t falling, a wrap around the chest
what are they if they are not actually there

no apples, no other fruit, the fall a tender season
before the challenge of incoming winter

if not, then what of this feeling of remembering
the absence pretending it is not absence, but something

like the way we cheese at our mom
show brushed teeth, scream finished, head off to bed, a minute early

or maybe the way a tree is only a tree if it is filled with lilacs
sometime in early june, the sound of you typing from the kitchen

the only way to remember you’re still around, but if not
something deeper, a chant we recite that sounds like it belongs

to church, but it doesn’t, a hymn deep in the tongue
rarely spoken by your mother anymore, if only to transition

centuries upon centuries of tradition into now

leaked down the family trees, a sap, perhaps this time, a cedar
or the apple tree on the end of your street, when you finally get home

lay on the couch with your head propped up, and wonder
how did I ever make it back here alive?

Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch is a queer Arab poet living in Tio’tia:ke, unceded Kanien’kehá:ka territory. Their work has appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 anthology, GUTS, Carte Blanche, the Shade Journal, The New Quarterly, Arc Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. They were longlisted for the CBC poetry prize in 2019. You can find them on Instagram and Twitter @theonlyelitareq. Their book, knot body, was published by Metatron Press September 2020, and their upcoming poetry collection, The Good Arabs, will be published by Metonymy Press in 2021.

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