Adele Ne Jame lives in Hawai‘i and teaches poetry at Hawaii Pacific University. She has published four books of poems, including Poems, Land & Spirit (Sharjah Art Foundation, United Arab Emirates and Bidoun Press) and The South Wind (Manoa Books and El León Literary Arts). Her work has appeared in American Nature Writing, Ploughshares, Nimrod, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Kanto, Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, Hawaii Pacific Review, Mixed Nerve, and several Arab American anthologies, including Inclined to Speak. Her poems were recently exhibited as broadsides at the Sharjah, United Arab Emirates International Biennial. She has served as the poet-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and received numerous grants and prizes, including a Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, Academy of American Poets’ prizes, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry.
From “The Last Elegy”
More than twenty years ago, a Lebanese American poet, Haas Mroue, came to Honolulu to read from his collection of poems, Beirut Seizures. From the moment we met, there was a deep kind of recognition. My parents had been born in Beirut, but had come to the United States as children, as part of the Lebanese diaspora, fleeing violence that had been particularly dangerous for Christians in the Chouf villages above Beirut. I had never been to Lebanon. Haas, however, had grown up in Beirut during the fifteen-year civil war, which started in 1975. He had been educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and at UCLA. He lived in Bahrain and London, spent time in Nice, and finally settled for half of each year in Port Townsend, Washington. He was a poet, a teacher, a prolific world-travel writer, and a moral force for peace, and in time, he became a brother to me. In addition to our many trips together, we had planned to go to Lebanon in 2006, but the war between Israel and Hezbollah fired up that summer, and our trip was cancelled. In 2007, while on sabbatical in Beirut, Haas died suddenly of heart failure at the age of forty-one. I had lost a brother.
Prior to his death, I knew nothing about Lebanon, the place where my parents’ families had died violently. When Haas spoke to me of the country, I had the uncomprehending sensibility of any outsider. After his death and two trips to Lebanon (2009 and 2010), I am still an outsider, of course, but my sensibility has changed. Writing about him and Lebanon, now inextricably bound together for me—and both lost in different ways—is about a kind of recovery in the face of such loss. It’s an affirmation of love for both. Haas’s own struggle with identity and issues having to do with exile, so urgently written about by Edward Said, has served to further illuminate my own. I see now that Lebanon, with all its confusion about identity (seventeen religious confessions and a fragile coalition government), is a macrocosm of our own complicated struggle for identity. I lost a man who was very different from me, much younger in age, gay, and from a Jewish-Muslim family. None of those differences mattered because he was close to me in the ways of the heart. His poems and his voice, bearing witness courageously, are always with me.