An excerpt from The Rumpus Poetry Book Club’s
July selection,
O by Zeina Hashem Beck
published by Penguin Books on July 5, 2022

We Are Young We Are Beautiful

The square ceiling lights become faint windows
on the clinic floor. The secretary answers the phone,
Why do you need Valium?

My friend was summoned & left me
here, holding her cappuccino.
We went dancing last night

though I had a stomach ache but she insisted
Get up get up, we are young we are
beautiful. We sang. We filmed the disco ball the strobes.

The secretary reminds the woman on the line
to pick up her meds on Monday. Don’t be late
there’s a small supply. I breathe in, the hollow flowers

of the white wooden door weave in the sunlight,
the cappuccino’s getting cold. The brochures invite,
Heard of multiple sclerosis? It’s time you did.

My friend dreamt of a shadow who asked her
if she wanted to be healed.
She told us last night in the car then hoped

the music in the club was good. It better
be good, she warned. The secretary repeats Sorry
no more appointments today.

The evacuation plan on the wall specifies:
3. Contain: Close all doors behind you.
My friend answered Yes, I want to be healed.

The waiting room smells like strawberry chewing gum.
The brochure explains Autoimmune means response
against self. Even in the dream, the miracle came

with a condition, as miracles do: To take away
six years from someone else. My friend
refused. No. At the club I searched

for the toilets & she pointed,
Over there, here, I’ll hold your bag
are you ok? I didn’t want to drink

but ended up with vodka anyway.
There was blue light & the shadow pulled her
by the arm that often goes numb. Is this a good

omen? Some days you wake up not sleeping,
some days you don’t. Being diagnosed
as early as possible is very important.

The secretary staples the papers tshk tshk,
the nurse strokes the tree tattoo on his arm.
As we leave I try not to step

on the squares of light on the floor—
I want something more certain
& less holy, for now. We don’t close the door behind us.

My friend walks ahead of me
& I ask her to Hey! slow down a little.
She turns around: Let’s go sit by the sea

I better throw this cappuccino don’t you want
to reincarnate? I tell her No, & she says
I hope we come back as sisters.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet and the author of two previous full-length collections of poetry: Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, 2017) and To Live in Autumn (The Backwaters Press, 2014), as well as two chapbooks: 3arabi Song (Rattle, 2016) and There Was and How Much There Was (smithdoorstop, 2016). Educated in Arabic, English, and French, Zeina has a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut. Her poem “Maqam” won Poetry’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize, and her work appeared in The New York Times, Ploughshares, Poetry, and elsewhere. Zeina is the co-creator and co-host, with poet Farah Chamma, of Maqsouda, a podcast about Arabic poetry produced by Sowt. After a lifetime in Lebanon and a decade in Dubai, Zeina recently moved to California with her husband and two daughters.

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