As if _poetry_ mattered
In a field of cinders where Armenian life
was still dying,
a German woman, trying not to cry
told me of the horror she witnessed:
‘This thing I’m telling you about,
I saw with my own eyes.
Behind my window of hell
I clenched my teeth
and watched the town of Bardez turn
into a heap of ashes.
The corpses were piled high as trees,
and from the springs, from the streams and the road,
the blood was a stubborn murmur,
and still calls revenge in my ear.
Don’t be afraid; I must tell you what I saw,
so people will understand
the crimes men do to men.
For two days, by the road to the graveyard…
Let the hearts of the world understand,
it was Sunday morning,
the first useless Sunday dawning on the corpses.
From dawn to dusk I had been in my room
with a stabbed woman –
my tears wetting her death –
when I heard from afar
a dark crowd standing in a vineyard
lashing twenty brides
and singing filthy songs.
Leaving the half-dead girl on the straw mattress,
I went to the balcony of my window
and the crowd seemed to thicken like a clump of trees.
An animal of a man shouted, “You must dance,
dance when our drum beats.”
With fury whips cracked
on the flesh of the women.
Hand in hand the brides began their circle dance.
Now, I envied my wounded neighbour
because with a calm snore she cursed
the universe and gave up her soul to the stars…
“Dance,” they raved,
“dance till you die, infidel beauties
with your flapping tits, dance!
Smile for us. You’re abandoned now,
you’re naked slaves,
so dance like a bunch of fuckin’sluts.
We’re hot for your dead bodies.”
Twenty graceful brides collapsed.
“Get up,” the crowd screamed,
brandishing their swords.
Then someone brought a jug of kerosene.
Human justice, I spit in your face.
The brides were anointed.
“Dance,” they thundered –
“here’s a fragrance you can’t get in Arabia.”
With a torch, they set
the naked brides on fire.
And the charred bodies rolled
and tumbled to their deaths…
I slammed my shutters,
sat down next to my dead girl
and asked: “How can I dig out my eyes?”’
Translated by Peter Balakian and Nevart Yaghlian
How leaky are all the borders
we draw around our separate nations!
How many clouds cross those boundaries
daily, without even paying the toll!
How much desert sand
simply sifts from country to country,
or how many mountain pebbles
hop down slopes on to foreign turf, just like that!
Need I remind you of each and every bird
as it flies over, and now sits,
on a closed border-gate?
Even if it’s small as a sparrow, its tail is abroad
while its beak is still at home.
And if that weren’t enough, it keeps fidgeting!
Out of countless insects, I will single out the ant,
who, right between the guard’s left boot
and his right, pays no attention to any questions of
origin or destination.
If only this whole messy affair
could be studied more, in detail,
all around the world!
Look! Isn’t that familiar hedge on the far bank even
now smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf
over the river?
And who else but the squid, unashamed
of the length of its arms, would violate
the precious boundary of our territorial waters?
How can we speak
of any semblance of order around here
when we can’t even rearrange the stars
to show which one shines for whom?
Not to mention the fog,
which reprehensively goes wherever it pleases. Or that
dust blowing blithely all over the prairie
as if the land had never been partitioned.
And the voices gliding on the obliging airwaves! All
these conspiratorial gurglings
and suggestive sounds.
Funny, isn’t it, how only what’s human is truly
alien? Everything else is just mixed vegetation,
a few subversive moles, and the wind.
Translated by Mark Belletini
This article is from
the July 2008 issue
of New Internationalist.
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