for Christopher Nasri Khattar, 1951-1992
By Alyssa A. Lappen
It’s late. Life has blown so quickly by,
A gust of desert wind, a storm, puffed up
In moments, gone, the air just as suddenly clear.
But for the dune that was standing there,
The landscape has not changed. That mound
Made the shade where poets rested and friends
Talked until the early evening chill.
You are like that hill. It will be this different
If you die. I despair. There is so much to keep
You here, but cancer has its grip.
At noon, your encouragement faded to a mirage
In the blistering sun. But oh what memories,
Of conversations long into the night,
The lines discussed, the meanings undressed.
Your waif-like frailty takes my breath.
I almost fear myself a thief, who stole your
Muse when you most needed it, that unseen
Power, Who gives life, strength, love, decrees
That things be so. Is this possible?
Beloved friend, Please stay, and tell
me ‘No.’ You will live (I pray)
Or die, regardless what I say.
But know this. My landscape shifted the day
we first caressed sweet language. I am revived.
Our last visit stirred the poem I could not write.
It comes like the child I thought I could not bear
(Who now plays and sings at my feet), in one long
Painless shove, from the spirit, fathered by your
Thoughtful seed, filled with hope and prayers for you,
No matter where you are, no matter where you go.
Dedication to Christopher Nasri Khattar
Renewal has come to me many times, but perhaps most poignantly through my beloved friend, a poet, Chris Khattar. I am a Jew. Chris was an Arab. In November 1991, I took a long flight and a weekend away from my family. Chris was gravely ill. I had to see him.
Jewish theology requires small acts of goodness, which sometimes save lives—each life being considered as an entire world. This was such a mitzvah. In return I received one of the greatest gifts ever given to me—recovery of the poetic voice I had lost for 15 years. Chris urged me to write again; I asked him if he would love me even though my voice was gone. “I will always love you, no matter what,” he said. “But you can write. And it is a wonderful way to express your passions.”
A week later, I gave Chris a poem. In February, he was gone. His bone marrow transplant had taken. When his heart stopped, I was shocked—and wept as I had for my father 25 years earlier. Chris was just 40. In 1978, Chris and I had shared tears of joy as we watched news of the Camp David peace accords. Saying Kaddish—the prayer of mourning, in praise of God, of life, of peace—seemed eminently appropriate. For in his priceless gift to me, Chris lives on.
Now I find myself saying Kaddish again—for peace itself. Next to God and Jerusalem, the thing most central to Judaism is peace. Our fervent prayers for peace—embodied for millennia in every Jewish prayer, every one—again go begging, when they seemed at last so close to fruition. We find our homeland immersed in another war, the sixth in Israel’s short life—offers of peace scorned, by thousands of attacks in Israel and hundreds more world-wide since September 2000 and threats of further violence to Israel through the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Mourning, however, does not permit us to let our light be extinguished. Now especially I think of Chris—and the example our deep and lasting friendship set. I pray for a peace peace built one friendship, one world, at a time. Once again, saying Kaddish seems appropriate: Hope lives, so long as there is life.
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