Monthly Archives: April 2016

Monday’s Verse 4/24/2016

Dear All,

I have hijacked Monday’s Verse today. Last week my favorite writer, historian and poet, Peter Balakian, won a Pulitzer for his poetry. When I was a kid, I was always searching for anything Armenian. I would even stare at movie credits looking for names ending in "ian." Anything I could find that was somewhat "Armenian" felt like a victory–as if that bit of evidence proved that "we do exist." I was dubious we did outside of my home and the home of my grandparents.

At 16, I was working on a school project on the Armenian Genocide at our local university library. While scanning books and desperately searching for an "ian." I stumbled across a book of poetry by Peter Balakian. I anxiously opened the book looking for a poem that would connect the "ian" to Armenia. I found The History of Armenia. We had survived and this man was writing about our history with modern modern syntax. I could not believe it and sat in the stacks reading it over and over again. Peter has since become a friend and colleague. Knowing him makes me proud. What he has accomplished, makes me proud to be Armenian.

He won the award days before the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. On the 23rd, the Turkish government seized Armenian Churches in Diyarbakir (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/world/europe/turkeys-seizure-of-churches-and-land-alarms-armenians.html?src=me&_r=1). On April 24, skywriters wrote out messages of denial across the New York City sky as Armenians gathered in Times Square to remember our lost nation. Across the river in Brooklyn a Turkish festival ensued with dancing and celebration (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3552070/Pro-Turkish-skywriters-scribble-slogans-New-York.html).

In The History of Armenia, Balakian describes the intermingling of his two realities–his childhood in East Orange, New Jersey and being the descendent of a genocide survivor. Yesterday, it seems those two realities clashed in the streets of New York and one of its boroughs. For Armenians, we are trapped in these two worlds and victimized by the same perpetrators who destroyed our nation 101 years ago. They follow us wherever we are, dancing as we mourn.

The History of Armenia

Last night

my grandmother returned

in her brown dress

standing on Oraton Parkway

where we used to walk

and watch the highway

being dug out.

She stood against

a backdrop of steam hammers

and bulldozers,

a bag of fruit

in her hand,

the wind blowing

through her eyes.

I was running

toward her

in a drizzle

with the morning paper.

When I told her

I was hungry, she said,

in the grocery store

a man is standing

to his ankles in blood,

the babies in East Orange

have disappeared,

maybe eaten

by the machinery

on this long road.

When I asked for my mother

she said, gone,

all gone.

The girls went for soda,

maybe the Coke was bad,

the candy sour.

This morning the beds are empty, water off,

toilets dry.

When I went to the garden for squash

only stump was there.

When I went to clip

parsley

only a hole.

We walked past piles

of gray cinder and cement

trucks; there were no men.

She said Grandpa left

in the morning,

in the dark;

he had pants to press

for the firemen of East Orange.

They called him

in the middle of night,

West Orange was burning,

Bloomfield and Newark

were gone.

One woman carried

the arms of her child

to East Orange last night

and fell on her uncle’s stoop,

two boys came with the skin

of their legs

in their pockets

and turned themselves in

to local officials;

this morning sun

is red and spreading.

If I go to sleep

tonight, she said,

the ceiling will open

and bodies will fall

from clouds. Yavrey,

where is the angel

without sword, Yavrey,

where is the angel

without six fingers

and a missing leg,

the angel with news

the water will be clear

and have fish.

Grandpa is pressing pants.

They came for him

before the birds were up—

he left without shoes

or tie, shirt or suspenders.

It was quiet.

The birds, the birds

were still sleeping.

Balakian, Peter (2010-11-02). June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2000. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Monday’s Verse 4/18/2016

Dear readers,

thanks to alert reader Arwen Blayney for sending in her photo of the 37 bus from Dublin, and to astute readers Bernadette, Mark, and Steve, for instantly recognizing the world’s most random number.

An addendum to last week’s selection is that I don’t know who Declan Molloy is. I also don’t know who Declan Mollow is, so last week’s intro stands the test of truth, but DECLAN MOLLOY is the author of "Woman Waiting for the Dublin Bus," and yes, he sure did some clever verbization there with chicaning, reminding me a little of Billy Collins and his "dolphining" to describe how a dog runs in the deep snow. Good stuff.

This week alert, antipodean, astute, altruistic reader Jennifer Ulichny tips us off to a centenarian poet, who had her first collection published shortly after her death at 107 years. Her small circle of fans fell in love with Peggy Freydberg’s "humor and passion and wisdom" when she read in public, or entertained interviewers. If this poem didn’t mention the writer’s advanced age, would you have known it was written by someone 90+? Keats, after all, wrote about shades of mortality and the crepuscular world, but died at 25.

For more about how Ms. Freydberg’s first book of poems came about, see this article. -ed.

CHORUS OF CELLS

Every morning,
even being very old,
(or perhaps because of it),
I like to make my bed.
In fact, the starting of each day
unhelplessly,
is the biggest thing I ever do.
I smooth away the dreams disclosed by tangled sheets,
I smack the dented pillow’s revelations to oblivion,
I finish with the pattern of the spread exactly centered.
The night is won.
And now the day can open.

All this I like to do,
mastering the making of my bed
with hands that trust beginnings.
All this I need to do,
directed by the silent message
of the luxury of my breathing.

And every night,
I like to fold the covers back,
and get in bed,
and live the dark, wise poetry of the night’s dreaming,
dreading the extent of its improbabilities,
but surrendering to the truth it knows and I do not;
even though its technicolor cruelties,
or the music of its myths,
feels like someone else’s experience,
not mine.

I know that I could no more cease
to want to make my bed each morning,
and fold the covers back at night,
than I could cease
to want to put one foot before the other.

Being very old and so because of it,
all this I am compelled to do,
day after day,
night after night,
directed by the silent message
of the constancy of my breathing,
that bears the news I am alive.

-2015

Monday’s Verse 4-11-2016

I don’t know who Declan Mollow is, I don’t know when he was born, I don’t know where this was published, I don’t know when it was written… I only know that this week’s MV comes with a photo illustration. ~mjl

WOMAN WAITING FOR THE DUBLIN BUS

Woman waiting for the Dublin bus
A traveller on the village bench
Alabaster legs making lazy tee’s
Occasionally you will stand furious
While waiting, brushing invisible
nuisance from aching knees
Looking at the busy street,
where asphalt and the untroubled meet
You watch the wind pause
before chicaning around a beech tree
Watching a paper bag dance on
invisible string, lost
Watching the dog tick brightly along,
It’s kissing the road
Like a mother searching for a child
already gone
Where are you going
Where are you going

Monday’s Verse 4/4/2016

Dear readers,

Welcome to national poetry month!

Who doesn’t like anagrams, right? No one, that’s who. No one on this reading list. And certainly not Craig Arnold (an old car rig), born 1967, died 2009. I wish he were still around, as I have just discovered him. He won a Yale Younger Poets prize back in 1998, when his work was primarily formal. He was a member of the rock band Iris. He was well-traveled. And in April 2009, while attempting to climb an active volcano peak in Japan, he disappeared. His body was never recovered, and it is assumed he fell to his death from a trail.

Here’s a series of couplets and tercets that could be cutesy in its repetitive use of anagram but instead, by line 17, wreaks quiet devastation. Well, someone did say it’s the cruellest month, right? -ed.

UNCOUPLINGS

There is no I in teamwork

but there is a two maker

there is no I in together
but there is a got three
a get to her

the I in relationship
is the heart I slip on
a lithe prison

in all communication
we count on a mimic
(I am not uncomic)

our listening skills
are silent killings

there is no we in marriage
but a grim area

there is an I in family
also my fail

-2008