Kalyna Review

Antony Johae

Learning Arabic Behavioristically in Lebanon (from Lines on Lebanon)


Pavlov started it with his hungry hound,

recurring bells and dinner served

to dripping saliva. “Behaviorism” they later called it.


Watson promoted it watching habit-forming humans

rehearse their acts without reflection

as secretaries routinely tapped out letters.


Skinner thought it a right condition for learning

– from steady iteration to instant reflex –

in short, an unremitting drumming in.


Teachers of tongues, tempered by trend,

took it on, drilled compliant students

until foreign sounds came out extempore.


Now here’s an Englishman groping for Arabic words,

hears this constant comment and repeats it:

ma fi kahraba – ma fi kahraba – ma fi kahraba° . . .



° Arabic: literally, no electricity ; i.e., there's a power cut.




Drivers (more learning by repetition) (from Lines on Lebanon)


You cry hayawaan° when at the wheel your parking space is taken,

hayawaan when a car comes out and cuts in front of you;

and when you’re near to getting scraped in a too-close-encounter

hayawaan’s let loose in fear of animal scratching.


° Arabic: animal




Trunk-Work (from Lines on Lebanon)


There’s a market at Sinn El Fil

under the trunk road flyover – cheap with high turnover.

Sinn El Fil, I’m told, means elephant’s teeth.

This sunny day I buy trunks for the beach, my wife a funny hat.

Back on the highway, I hiss hayawan° when careless cars harry me;

they bellow and hoot like hinds from behind,

seem to be about to bump into my boot (or trunk).

Now there’s a monstrous truck that’s tracking me

on the over-charged right-hand lane.

Hayawan I hiss again through grinding teeth

my mind trying to find a further crushing curse.

Then comes one that’s relevant: “Enta fil! You elephant!”

About the author


Antony Johae divides his time between Lebanon and the United Kingdom. He has taught literature in Africa and the Middle East. His collection, Poems of the East, came out in 2015. Lines on Lebanon is work in progress.