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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