Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis

Vanishing Armenia

All spring swallows enter your father’s home, through its crushed windows.
Daniel 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,
Armenian, same thing
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 too:
he meant the suffering
that sends us half into a grave
when someone dies.
We don’t believe in quiet passage;
scream back, kick, claw,
take this, we say, take that,
and death obliges, takes everything,
comes back for more.
We hide where we can:
between the pine-scented sheets
of the book one man gave me as a gift,
the imaginary travel guide book I gave him.
Peering through trellised fingers,
we say we can’t see each other.
We know better and still we love.
II. Summer, 1993, Kusadasi, Turkey
My little sister and I in Ephesus
on tour with old men, their anger
still smoking: These are Greek ruins,
now they charge us to look at them. Those Turks.

Five hours we wandered,
through shops and ruins,
ogled young Turkish vendors,
suede-bodied men.
No women anywhere.
Christina recalls the flinty 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 olivine,
(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 reboard to our father’s country.
(She meant 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 dusken 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, gentle,
gone suddenly fierce:
They will never be our people.
Anything but a Turk.
Bring me home anything…

III. February 14, 1997
I was three years outside of this life,
moving from my hometown, my sisters,
one 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.

Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis
Vanishing Armenia first appeared in Another Chicago Magazine and Glimmer Train.