Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The South Wind

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The South Wind

Article excerpt

Adele Ne Jame. The South Wind Honolulu, HI: Manoa Books, 2011. 47 pages. Paper $15.00

Reviewed by Naomi Shihab Nye

We hunger for good word from the old countries. The ways our ancestors perched by small fires or tiny heaters on chill nights, anxious for one of the blue onion-skin folded air-letters, thin on weight but rich with connection, read and reread in the twilight, we long for something to assure us of ongoing legacy. People have disappeared, been swallowed up by distance and discord. No one calls anymore. We need the deeply colored, firmly knotted red and green threads holding fragments together.

Such lives we've all been living, at the end of the twentieth century and staggering start of the precarious twenty-first - lives of split-second media announcement offering surreal "awareness" and "information" but nevertheless threatening to disconnect whole peoples from their roots, place us all at odds. At the same time that thousands of voices in so many far streets are raised for justice and self-determination, other voices right down the block quiver, shy to express the simplest, most elemental humanities. And we miss one another. How do we navigate these fraught seasons, keeping alive our love for old cultures and people who made us, in a time which separates, striking so much down?

For many, it's poetry, which heals and helps the balance. Adele Ne Jame, a Lebanese- American who's lived for decades in Hawai'i, makes her first and second journey to her family's home country of Lebanon and calls herself "a stranger/ in this place that should have been/my home..." (from a poem "First Night at the Beirut Commodore" written later than this book). She carries her own tin lamp "up the thousand steps of the mountain" and feels the lives she has known inside her skin pitch awake, to carry her and the memories that precede and permeate her. She remembers her beautiful brother poet Haas Mroue, who died on his own return trip to Lebanon - "you kneeled to show me/ what could be salvaged, then stood. . ."

She finds her way. "They have a saying here: it's quiet until it's not." One can detect deep solitude and silence hovering here behind the lines - a "pause" and a "hold" in each image. In elegant poems of rediscovery, Ne Jame encounters and invokes traditions, details of landscape and geography, foods arranged on tables, movements, which were always part of her being. "The World is a Wedding" and suddenly we all are "mapping small countries/ from the air" because we need to, because they have waited for us so patiently, retaining their own savory flavors and tender dreams.

Ne Jame writes with delicacy and fine maneuvering, around the luscious remembered and imagined landscapes. She feels the textures and presences of all times, and she weaves them. Something is restored. Her worlds of Hawai'i, childhood, with immigrant parents in New Jersey, and travel in Lebanon, mix and mingle without clash. …

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