to the almond tree

Illustration by ppdans

Written by Lujayn Hourani

To the almond tree,

For my birthday this year, Ro bought me a stack of zines from Lebanon. Ro also made one, just for me. Their zine is hand-bound and written in oil pastel. It is about vases: what it means to be boxed in and still have an exit-point. It is about home: wanting to have one without having to build one yourself. This is our great diaspora desire. On the thirteenth page, Ro writes: we deserve these events and streets brought to us.

The pink kitchen tiles of our California st. apartment. The tassels on our salon couches. Sousou’s 1998 Nissan Sunny. The pink oleander that my grandfather planted. The third floor apartment that gets to reap its flowers.

To the almond tree 1.6 kilometres from my house, you are a metaphor for what I want brought to me, but writing this metaphor is never any fun. This letter waxes and then it wanes and then it waxes again. This is my fourth draft. Now it is my fifth. I struggle to write nature, nostalgia, homesickness, because I end up sounding like the poets my parents loved in the eighties. The ones I am trying not to be.

This last birthday was the best one of my life. Mainly because this is the most loved I have ever been, but also because this birthday happened during Victoria’s lockdown. A lockdown that I learn, only after we start to ease away from it, is the longest and the strictest in the world. I turned twenty-four and my friends and siblings brought themselves to my porch or back yard and I just leaned out my window or out my door. I did not have to put shoes on.

Yesterday I found a janerik tree. I didn’t tell anyone where, I just said it was on my way home. I use the passive voice when I say I want to be blessed, but what I mean is I want someone to bless me. A paradox of wanting ownership of that which is holy to me. One of getting something without having to ask for it. One I cannot write without sounding like the poets I am trying not to be. Two drafts ago it included a metaphor about may zamzam. I’m glad it’s been deleted.

The awful smell of Taj al Molouk on Bliss. The brown corridor tiles of our California st. apartment. The chip in the bedroom wall paint. A separate faucet in the kitchen for sweetwater.

Every few days I think of Eva who lived a seven-minute walk from my house and was my best friend. I think these two things are correlated, but we are still close even though she is in Uppsala and I am in Melbourne. Eva said to me, understanding yourself is not a prerequisite for being understood. And I have since repeated it to new and old loved ones: on the tram, in my yard, over text. I can’t place where I was when Eva said it to me for the first time: either at the springs, or by the river, or on the bus, or at her co-op.

When the jasmines in my backyard started blooming this September, I picked a handful and placed them into a ceramic dish with some ice water, then I set the dish down on the coffee table. The water will become air, the air will dissipate through the room, the room will smell like jasmine. But this didn’t happen, and I was embarrassed that my housemates had seen me try to bring heritage-home to passport-home, and fail. I don’t know why it didn’t work, maybe it wasn’t a hot enough day.

The elevator’s manual door. The bathroom’s accordion door. The metal bars that make it so that we can let the breeze in without risking us falling out. The deadlock.

Ro’s zine is written in the same oil pastels that we use to co-write poems. We do this on days that are sunny, but not always warm. I think the poems are secret, because we have not shown them to anyone else. I write about a room with no ceiling, Ro writes about a vase. I want to fill something up, I want it to be able to leak if it needs to.

On a road-trip that I had almost forgotten about, I and the person driving sat side by side at 100kmph and described our childhood homes to one another. Starting with the exterior, then the yard, then going through the front door and talking at each other room by room. We were both homesick. And both nervous to go back.

It’s nice that you hang low enough for me to reach the fruit, but I only ever pick enough to fit in one hand. You’re not a metaphor for a home within reach, you’re a metaphor for one that I can stomach. This is our great diaspora desire.

The first roach you see up the five flights of terrazzo stairs. Then the second. The plastic jar with the yellow lid; it is filled with salt. The stained books in the sunroom that no one has opened for years. The second balcony, the one in the kitchen, the one that is only ever used to hang the washing.

It has been two years since I was last in Beirut and I know that, because of the October 2019 revolution, its aftermath, the global pandemic, the August explosion, it no longer exists how I remember it.

Ro says I taught them that desire is wise, but I don’t remember saying it so overtly. Either way, it made me think about my own ones: going to Beirut, seeing a sovereign Palestine, being on the receiving end of repentance. My desires are contingent on the return to something. The something is demarcated in time. This is why I have poets that I try not to be. I do not live where they did.

The French-colonial apartment that my dad had dreams of buying. The way those terraces arch. The white tablecloth. The view. The full-length mirror in the corner. The marble side-table. The one made of glass.