Immortal Sea, Your Sea

              To my father

You taught me how to hold the fishing rod,
feel the tugs, and it took all of my small body
to hold onto you and the rod as we stood
on the Beirut shore. Sometimes you would choose
a spot on the slippery rocks that jutted out to sea,
to get closer to the bass and bream.
Those days I learned what sabr was,
watching you take in the unending distances
with your eyes, the patience of waiting.

There was tenderness in your casting dance,
a longing as you moved your body
toward the horizon. A line of poetry would often
emerge from your lips— something about how to live
with dignity, search for pearls in the sea, 
appreciate the power of the pen over the sword.
It seemed on those days that whether the fish
found you didn’t matter.

Had you had your way
with what your life should have been like
without the war, the Mediterranean
would have been the cradle of everything
you dreamed. You taught all of us to swim,
to submerge our heads, not to be afraid
of the salt and the vast airless space.
I was hypnotized by the motion
of your arms as you swam in the depths
parallel to shore, following a line
that was infinite yet close.

In Haifa you had owned ships and traded
in cargo between the countries that shared
the same expanse of blue—until the world war
halted your dreams. Then the Nakba
put your relatives on boats going northward
and it was the Mediterranean, again,
that witnessed your woes.
The sea became the archive of your losses.

So when we moved to Beirut, you tried
to reimagine it—as a chronicler, a place
of reflection, wondrous and generous and deep.
It was where you could bring your family
to picnic and frolic on Sundays,
dig in the sand to reach the water below.
You could invoke the other meaning
of sea, the bahr that refers to meter
in classical Arab poetry, a lovely convergence.
You relished reciting the couplets of Al-Mutanabbi
and Shawqi, but later with our beloved Darwish,
you saw the bahr ebbing, the structure
giving way to unrhymed free verse:
your history unhinged, taken apart, regrouped.

Maybe we should have scattered your ashes
over the sea, the poetry of your being
going back to where it belongs.
You would have been one with the fish
and the boats, the rocks and sand and waves,
sabr, memories, and loss. We could have
then visited you and touched Palestine
everywhere, in your immortal sea.

About the Author

Zeina Azzam is a Palestinian American poet, writer, editor, and community activist. She is the poet laureate of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, for 2022-25. Her poetry collection, Some Things Never Leave You, was published in 2023 and her chapbook, Bayna Bayna, In-Between, in 2021. She has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Zeina’s poems are also published in literary journals, webzines, and anthologies including Writing the Land: Virginia; Making Mirrors: Writing/Righting by and for Refugees; and Gaza Unsilenced. She serves as a mentor for We Are Not Numbers, a writing program for youth in Gaza, and volunteers for Grassroots Alexandria, advocating locally for the civil rights of vulnerable communities. Zeina holds an M.A. in Arabic literature from Georgetown University.