Why have you come to Beirut?
I have come to meet a friend.
What is your friend’s name?
Her name sounds like rain in December.
Where does she live in Beirut?
At The Two Wells, near where the streets
wind down to meet the sea.
Has she the means to keep you?
She is richer than God already
and stands to inherit more.
Are you a habitual blasphemer?
No, I lack the rigor and stone.
All my habits are petty vices: liquor,
fabulous lies, desert rutting.
How long then could she love you?
Once she takes me into her
she will never let me go.
How old is she?
Older than a shaft of sun in a cell
younger than tomorrow night.
How do we know you are not lying if you admit you are a great liar?
I would never lie about her,
she is too superlative, all of her,
black eyes that swallow all light,\
teeth whiter than fish bones, hair
bright with the emblems of constellations.
We should see your friend, informally of course.
A man of your years in Beirut, you probably have.
Yes, I’m sure you already have.
1955, THE CATERPILLAR
paints with a six centimeter shard of
his own bone, passed it last night through
his penis out on to the plastic-covered mattress
in his room in the dark punctuated by
the off-and-on blue commas of the light bulb
and periods of footsteps in the ward. Last night
he dreamed a mountain, defunct volcano, blue
and black, a praying mantis, one giant glassy eye,
rising from the crater, femur human
in a giant pincer. Then came steps in the hall.
The doctors from Berkeley watch him paint
behind the two-way mirror. One is middle-aged,
lean, mustached, wool tie, odor of pipe tobacco
and soap, the other is younger, thirty but balding,
getting fat, Oxford shirt, black tie with geese
and grease stains. They watch him paint, Schizo-
phrenic patient, Jewish origins, twenty, claims Jesus
might be his son and not the other One.
He does not have to think about it anymore:
the bone is pointed, spiked at the end
but they let him keep it anyway,
pretend not to see it. Paint. Light
is flat inside the canvas, three walls black,
floor white, ceiling a sick star burst,
the way he has to shape it, with the spike,\
the combusting, insomnia, his sleepless Godhead,
the reptile cruelty. The middle wall
is a clear white space he would soon hover into,
the divine center of his triptych of three walls.
The right wall has the thief,
a skeleton held up by a puppeteer’s bands
on a stage of bones, the left wall a mountain
named Barabas, defunct volcano and mantis,
Jehovah’s beloved one. But he would await
the angel horse, the white gelding, to carry
him across the black swathe
to stand haughty, to take His throne.
The patient stands still as the pane of glass
half an hour as they eat sandwiches,
drink coffee, talk about Adlai Stevenson,
tea, Russia, the phallic automobiles just out
for ‘56. Finishing, the senior doctor
strokes his mustache, the stout younger one
blots the remainder of his coffee and cream
from his tie with a handkerchief. He picks up
tripod and camera and they enter the room.
The camera on the tripod is a Cyclops mantis,
one hungry eye. Insect. Killer. Starburst.
Spike. The release into the canvas is bliss
Why have you come to Beirut?
Michael Dennison has lived in Beirut for the past five years. He teaches poetry writing and literature at the American University of Beirut. His poetry has appeared in Frank, Van Gogh's Ear, The Journal, and other magazines.