“On The Day Dante Journeyed Through Beirut:” A Canto from Inferno 2.0 by Khaled Rajeh

To Ramlet el Bayda I chose to embark

With Jad, my trusty homegrown guide,

Who had spent three hours trying to park.

The parking spot we found was quite wide,

But not, strictly speaking, lawful,

“We’ll just leave my number on the windscreen inside.”

I was met with a stench so awful

As soon as we stepped out of the Fiat,

It was a moldering box of falafel.

“That’s odd” I said to Jad in his straw hat,

“How one could abandon such a thing,

Must have left it out for a cat.”

My guide led the way and started to sing

But I was too flushed and sweaty to join in,

Long gone were the cool days of spring.

First to block our path was a large green trash bin

That across the whole sidewalk overflowed,

And piled bags all the way up to my chin!

After that we came across an uncrossable road,

Where two-ton heaps of steel were zipping by our side,

Restrained neither by traffic laws nor penal code.

Sixty six times in the next six seconds we almost died,

When Jad put a hand up and led me through,

Drivers seemed happy to assist our clear suicide.

Then I felt something give way under my shoe,

“Oh, we don’t clean up after our dogs either,” Jad said,

“I can’t keep my eyes on the ground for you.”

I felt a heavy throb in the back of my head,

I desperately needed to rehydrate,

All the moisture within my body had fled.

The last drops in my bottle were too few to satiate,

And I had already hauled a huge empty-bottle stash,

“Might I ever find a recycling bin in this state?”

“A recycling bin? Oh, don’t be so brash,

You know you can discard it wherever you may,

This whole city’s a big pile of trash!”

The next sight I beheld no canto can convey,

It left me behind my guide immobile,

Disguising my distressful dismay.

Three shirtless kids were digging through a pile

Of black and blue bags by the side of the street,

“What are you looking for?” I tried to smile.

One kid jumped onto his bare feet

And the two others followed him towards me,

“We were just looking for something to eat.”

“But we find a lot of cool stuff too,” said he,

“Like Legos or Transformers or a G.I. Joe,

But they’re always missing a limb or three.”

What to say to them I did not know,

Till Jad said “say nothing” and moved me along,

“Else they’ll follow you wherever you go.”

The stench was still growing strong

As we moved closer to our destination,

How can the air here be worse than Hong Kong?

What I then beheld resolved my speculation,

I asked Jad why our trail was cut by a train of tires,

He answered, “Just another demonstration.”

“These things often go out in massive fires,

That scatter black clouds all over the city

And benefit no one but pneumatic suppliers.”

“But is there no environmental committee

That keeps tabs on all this?” I asked Jad,

“Or a government with the least bit of pity?”

A government, he said, he was certain they had,

But an environmental committee he was not,

“One must not let such issues drive one so mad.”

But the fact that the city is being left to rot

Was most definitely driving me insane,

“Soon there would be not one unlittered spot!”

“That day shall come, and it will be to our gain,

When the stench rises to the highest penthouse,

And from action our leaders can no longer abstain.”

“Thus a final solution they shall be forced to espouse,

Disregarding to whose pockets the profit then goes,

And no longer would anyone their trash with petrol douse.”

Oh, I thought, my guide actually knows

A rational remedy for this reeking hell,

To fight its fire with fire, I suppose.

Soon it will collapse in on itself, and well,

That only could prompt the first sustainable action,

A nationwide incentive to rid the state of its smell.

After having that thought, my first reaction

Was to reach for the empty-bottle stash on my back,

And begin my litterary benefaction.

I left one bottle in a narrow crack

And another in the tip of a traffic cone,

The rest I dumped right onto the tarmac.

Some tissues from my pocket I had pulled out and thrown,

Watching the wind carry them afar,

And stuck my gum to the speaker-end of a payphone.

“Did you just?” my guide said with a look quite bizarre,

“What’s the fuss?” I said as I took off my left sock,

“You’re becoming more Lebanese than we are!”

I chucked that one sock across a whole block

And alas, still possessed by this Satanic force,

Took a quick piss on the sidewalk.

I had felt not a tinge of shame or remorse

When my guide yelled, “The great Lord has answered our prayer!

We’ve arrived at the beach, the end of our course!”

Only to discover there was now a building there.

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