All spring swallows enter your father’s home, through its crushed
– Taniel Varoujan
If we met on the street
in a foreign language
who would it belong to?
I’ve never tasted your language
except on the tongue
of one sweet Armenian boy
who told me Greek,
I know he lied; we are both
a proud, proud people.
I know he meant the kiss to seal
the space and I let it.
And I know he told the truth as well:
he meant the suffering,
dark hot-blooded wine,
that sends us half into a grave
when someone dies.
We don’t believe in quiet passage;
we scream back, kick, claw,
Take this, we say, take that
and death does; it takes everything,
comes back for more.
Red-faced, we curse everything
short of God. We know better
and still we love.
We’ll hide where we can;
between the pine-scented sheets
of the book he gave me as a gift,
the imaginary travel guide-book I gave him.
We peer through trellised fingers,
say we can’t see each other.
We know better and still we lie.
Summer, 1993, Kusadasi, Turkey
My little sister and I
in Ephesus on tour with old men, their anger
still smoking from lost history
These are Greek ruins, now they charge
us to look at them, those Turks.
Five hours we wandered,
through shops and ruins,
young Turkish vendors,
No women anywhere,
Christina remembers the look
in our father’s eyes when she came home
and spoke of their beauty
(and they were dark fires,
—in their eyes, dusty dark hair
eyes like gold-lit-afternoon-lichen-mossy-forests.)
They marched through our villages
our father said.
Stone-eyed, amber and peridot,
(they are a half-honey colored people.)
You dropped my heart,
they said to the tourist women
and we heard wrong, started looking
on the ground for a fallen hat.
His beauty felt like something alive
my sister said on the bus back
to the ship we’d float
to our father’s country.
She means the doll seller, a young boy
holding a doll to the bus window
and calling out I give you
beautiful girl, I give you.
Understand this, our father said,
we don’t forget.
We slept heavily that evening,
woke sweat-drenched and thirsty,
woke dreamy-eyed with impossible cravings
chocolate glass, breadfruit,
the so slow sweetness of honey
against our dusk shoulders.
We swallow hard and the taste stays.
I mean they were lovely men.
They cut our country like a big cake
a slice here, there, they devour us, our father said.
It was summer and we wore sheerness,
filmy skirts, floated down Turkish streets
imagined invisible women
in the windows watching.
We wore a veil of that fine Ephesian dust home
as a second skin
and we shimmied sticky-skinned,
our hands, our mouths full of honey.
Dreamed our father there, soft-faced,
gentle, gone suddenly fierce:
They will never be our people.
Anything but a Turk,
Bring me home anything…
February 14, 1997
I was three years outside of this life,
moving from my hometown, my sisters,
that boy born on Valentine’s Day
all left behind.
I was three years outside of today
a warm day for winter,
but this is the Valentine I dreamed:
a book of poems
by an Armenian woman
who wrote of your words
under a foreign moon,
a wild, foreign moon.
In this lighting, everything’s foreign
our words, this town,
the body of a lover returns
as the body of a poet
killed in a square
nearly a century ago.
It’s like nostalgia before the fact,
before there’s anything to long for.
Like using past tense for a thing
you’d only wished for.
I never knew, I never knew
I only know it’s Friday, Daniel,
I want what I want:
a heart embroidered with your words,
a book that smells of his house,
just one of the stones
they used to bring you down.