The Ballad of Skandar

–Dayr al-Qamar, Lebanon

Unframed by any photograph, diminished by history,
rehearsed in no song,
embalmed by oral memory, great-grandfather
where have you gone?

Under the waning moon, in the valley
of Dayr al-Qamar,
Skandar ibn Mitri—Arab,
Christian, soldier for the occupier.

In the far margins of the Ottoman Empire,
above a little town,
a Muslim diverted the living stream,
the story passes down,

to irrigate his crops.  The Christians below
sent up soldier after soldier:
they couldn’t capture the unnamed
wily Muslim. Until Skandar,

courageous warrior, brought down
the Muslim in cuffs.
In the village below, gunshots.  Skandar
fell, a bullet in his calf.

The bound Muslim dragged him
safe behind a cedar.
Skandar gave the man his key,
changed his fate forever.

What would Skandar choose:
Jail or exile?  Exile,
at least, is freedom.  But where is freedom?
Beyond the far walls

of the Ottoman empire, a house without
iron bars on windows,
where water flows from every spout—
or so the story goes.