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Dispatches from Kuwait: Got To Live The Life

“I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song”
Lyrics by Tommy Dorsey
Sung by Mahalia Jackson
Interpreted by William Hastings in the streets of Beirut and the mountains of Bsharri, Lebanon

I’m gonna live the life I sing about in my song
I’m gonna stand for right and I always shun the wrong
If I’m in the crowd, if I’m alone
On the streets cascading moonlight home
as alligators crawl around me and the
roaches die beneath my feet
gutter rats sleeping and a hunch-backed old woman sells flowers red
like promise in-between the people at a sidewalk cafhen we’re still alone
and singing these songs.

Everyday, everywhere
On a busy thoroughfare
Folks may watch me; some may spot me
Say I’m foolish
But Im really just a nomad walking
and wondering deserts and the night and
a hand that was left behind next to a shot glass and a bent playing card
or the string hanging off of the side of a mattress at noon
and a jaguar I’ve never seen.

I’m gonna have to live the life I sing about in this song
a song born of Beirut and it’s blue metal street signs nailed to chipped
concrete
walls
in Arabic and French and the women of that lonely city
more beautiful than
release
and as dangerous and knowing.
Songs sung in-between the stacks of used books in Ayad’s Bookshop in his
aisles too narrow
to turn around in
while Ayad reads you one of his poems
about retribution
a woman
the unfinished drink or
the laugh of fools and madmen which aren’t the same thing.

Everyday, everywhere
lurching across gorge roadways dodging
traffic
in search of dead poets in Bsharri
and their final
words burned into wood and frozen to a wall
also concrete.
Bsharri of the Northern Lebanese mountains
beneath clouds blown swirling
into Kadisha Gorge beneath you
blown into waterfalls
and across the wrought iron railings on houses made of stone
in towns whose people still
spoke Aramaic
the language of Christ and other things
until 1880
until today.

I’m gonna live the life I sing about in this song
I’m gonna stand for right and I always shun the wrong
in the crowd, alone
the wrong clearer than the
Israeli fighter jets cracking
the sky above
Al-Ardz, the Cedars,
trees twisted and thick
like a beggar’s hard fingers
like a solo gone off the rails
like a belly dancer’s hips shaking independence and
independent of the body in an Arab restaurant
in the dawn
twisted and thick
like sheesha or hashish smoke
in a different dawn
not in Bsharri
not near the dead poet
having drunk from The Source and returned from The Mountain.

Everyday, everywhere
On a busy thoroughfare
Folks may watch me; some may spot me
Say I’m foolish
But I’m just lurching taking notes and photographs along backstreets riddled by bullet holes
a face with acne scars
a face hard to write about and not to sing about
the face of the clash and of the pairing
of the shoe-shine boy at noon and not in school on Rue Hamra
while I drink beer for lunch
on that rainy Wednesday
and listen to pollution or Ali Hassan Kuban that
Nubian master of rhythms designed to consummate marriages
reading Tayeb Salih that
Sudanese master who wrote that there are “white pages in the scrolls of life to be inscribed with vivid sentences written in a bold hand.”

The rain dripping off of the green awning with its Italian writing and view of
a watch store sign in Greek
a fortress of time.

But that’s wrong.

Fortress means enclosure and man is the only beast that keeps time, time itself
is not
kept.

If at day, if at night
I must always walk in the light
Some mistake me; underrate me
Because I want to do alright
but here
in Beirut
there’s a soldier on the corner
and his FN-FAL rifle shines black like shoe-grease
or the space left from a missing tooth
and I have champagne and prophecies in a bag
matched with a torn hat
an old shirt
and shoes whose soles are miles
whose souls are my attempt.

I can’t go to church and shout all day Sunday
I’ve got other shit to do
Other halls of cedar trees and sky and cold granite mountains terraced
for olive farming
to worship infinite in.

I can’t go to church and shout all day Sunday
there’s boxing matches
dead poets
graves
cattle farms
insect mounds
bar bands
jazz
soul
old manuscripts in dead tongues
old manuscripts in Arabic and
Spanish
French
Mongolian
street signs in Beirut to decipher
street signs in Bsharri to decipher
Beirut itself
Bsharri itself
cliffs
boat painting shacks
notebooks
despair
rooftops
beds filled and beds empty
empty glasses used in The American Dream on Hamra Street
Hamra Street like any street and none at all
Hamra Street with its students, failures and me
myself, anyway.

I can’t go to church and shout all day Sunday
I’ve got to go out and get drunk and raise sand all day Monday
I’ve got to live the life I sing about in my song.

I can’t go to church and shout all day Sunday
I’ve got to go out
to Beirut or Bsharri or Kansas
for the poets and failures
and
I’ve got to live the life I sing about in my song.

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