The Story of Jacobo the Turko

Excerpts from a new book by a Delaware writer about international geopolitics and the human spirit with a very local twist

 · July 12, 2021

[Editor’s note:  The following two poems are excerpted with the author’s permission from Jacobo, the Turko; a novel in verses, by Phillip Bannowsky.  You can learn more about Phillip in the About the Author bio below.

The narrative is told experimentally through a series of miscellaneous ephemera and verses.  The protagonist, Jacobo Bitar, is an Ecuadorian man of Lebanonese descent who travels to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on a J-1 Visa in hopes of restaurant work for the summer tourist season.  He ends up working on a chicken processing line in Sussex County.  Jacobo is deported by ICE to Lebanon (where he’s never lived).  He is eventually captured by U.S. Forces in the Middle East and is sent first to Bagram AFB, Afghanistan, and then Guantanamo Bay Prison, Cuba.

More information about the book, its creator and how you can buy it (not at Amazon) can be found here.]

Jacobo, Not Home Now, Meets Leila

(Previously published in Meat for Tea: the Valley Review.)

If you lived here

You would be home now

—sign entering Bridgeville, Delaware.

She lived with Uncle Pops,

related to him by some skein of obligation:

kinship, chance, desperation. 

Theirs was an orphan street discontinued 

beyond their one block

by a century of municipal inattention, 

which pleased Uncle Pops, 

for here was where quote don’t too many people know your business, 

his business being marijuana and painting pictures 

from his third-floor studio of neighbors 

changing tires, tending gardens, or 

homesteading behind plywood 

and balloons of graffiti:

Snitches get stitches.

I’d spent the day of my rescue showing Uncle Pops 

how I could hack marijuana with a machete

and then we’d driven 

to Bridgeville where he showed me 

that sign and laughed:

If you lived here 

You would be home now.

I thought he meant to dump me 

but he drove on, and the farther we drove north, 

and the more Uncle Pops lectured on towns that memorialized

old world cities, a rejected king, a martyred president, 

and settlers who stole 

their homes from the Lenni-Lenape, 

the more I felt Uncle Pop’s wheels spin me into his skein.

Then I met Leila, who made me feel the tug 

of a terrifying attraction, 

too far to fly the spark of satisfaction;

As once on high Imbabura,

trekking a path I thought was homeward,

with anticipation rushing me onward as I rounded

an enormous stone, but came upon a cliff edge,

with my village far below,

a tiny wrinkle drawing me into flight,

So I yearned for Leila,

but she was eyeing me the way the Lenni-Lenape 

must have eyed those who came ashore with

helmets and horses, even though 

I was half-Indian, myself.


(Previously published in armarólla.)

Often, we met at Mr. Ali Beheshti’s 

for a ride to his laundry, where Hamoudi and I worked, 

so far only in winter months, when the heat from the dryers 

was tempered by Mediterranean breezes, alhamdulillah

praise God, as the Muslims had taught me to say 

in the event of anything short of haram, or God forbid, 

which the laundry was almost, 

now that March had begun prickling us 

with the gentlest–alhamdulillah–hints of summer.

Mr. Beheshti’s home had bright marble tables, 

chairs carved from imported wood, 

and ochre carpets from Iran.  

In one corner was a little shrine 

to his brother-in-law-in-the-Resistance, 

as Lebanese call it: 

three shelves of dog tags, ribbons, medals, 

gazelle and horse figurines, 

inlaid boxes, a golden sword embossed 

with curlicues of Arabic calligraphy, 

and photos of bearded imams, 

one with the brother-in-law-in-the Resistance, 

who held a Hezbollah flag: 

summer yellow with AK-47, green, on high.

Mr. Beheshti’s clamshell sounded an electronic Baladi: 


Alhamdulillah,” I heard, 

a short cut for “I’m fine.” 

Later, Mr. Beheshti gave us the play-by-play

for the call, which was from 

the brother-in-law-in-the-Resistance, 

who wanted to discuss fútbol, 

the match between Russia and Brazil, 

and everyone’s hero, Ronaldo, the great Brazilian striker.  

It was a friendly match;

the big battle would come 

in the World Cup this summer, so the important thing, 

was that no one get injured, insha’Allah. 

The cold was in Russia’s favor, 

but, fifteen minutes into the match, 

Brazil’s captain Roberto Carlos crossed the Russian line 

fifty meters from the goal, prepared to pass 

to Ronado, who was waiting behind a four-man bulwark, 

but Carlos, faking it, tapped the ball two steps ahead 

and—surprise!—booted straight through 

for a goooooooooooalhamdulillah! 

but not before Ronaldo threw out his arm, 

and almost committed haram 

when the ball hit him on the way. 

W-Allah! The path is narrow, Ali.  

One-zero to the end, Brazil played hard defense with substitutes, 

because the important thing 

was that none should fall 

before the big battle to come.

The sun rose twice on the cooling sea, 

its gleams and shadows crossfading with the hours 

through shine, shadow, red ochre, and night, 

but—haram—the brother-in-law-in-the-Resistance 

would not be around 

for the big battle to come.

About the Author

Phillip Bannowsky is a poet and novelist who draws on his experiences as Navy brat, autoworker, international educator, and human rights activist to address the human mundane versus historical juggernaut. Phillip worked on the assembly line for Chrysler in Newark, DE for 31 years. He has taught secondary English in Ecuador and Lebanon and The Poetry of Empowerment at the University of Delaware. He is an associate editor at Dreamstreets magazine and was the 2017 recipient of an Established Artist Fellowship in Poetry for his then work-in-progress, Jacobo the Turko: a novel in verses. Read more from Phillip Bannowsky.