post archive

Childhood


Land of Armenians

 

Lawn sign in Watertown, Massachusetts, 6/16

Last week I returned to my hometown of Watertown, Massachusetts to visit my parents, to do research for my novel in the archives of the two English-language Armenian newspapers, and to attend a board meeting of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (otherwise known as NAASR). While skimming back issues for articles about the Lebanese Civil War, I found a small item in the Armenian-Mirror Spectator about myself: “Nancy Kricorian, a 9th-grade student at the East Junior High School in Watertown, was the winner of the recent Bicentennial Poster Contest and her poster becomes the official Town of Watertown Bicentennial Poster.” At the offices of the Armenian Weekly I fell upon an absolute treasure trove of reports about what was going in the Armenian precincts of Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

 

My parents and I had dinner on Friday evening at the Armenian Memorial Church’s annual fair, where I saw some old family friends and classmates. On Saturday when I walked two miles from my parents’ apartment complex to NAASR’s offices in Belmont, I passed a lawn sign that said, “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The message was printed first in Armenian, second in English, and third in Arabic. (I’m happy to report that because of my regular Armenian lessons I was able to read and understand the Armenian text.) On Saturday afternoon I stopped to pick up some fruit at Armenian-owned Arax Market, where I loved the Armenian conversations going on around me, and then I went to Armenian-owned Fastachi (they do mail order!) to purchase some nuts and chocolates for my family. I really hit peak East Watertown nostalgia on this trip, and felt deeply Armenian.

 

My compatriots are in the news lately. The New York Times ran a profile of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, “our midfield Armenian” who plays for Manchester United. Heno (his Armenian diminutive) is also called “the Armenian magician,” and you can see why if you watch this video of his breathtaking “scorpion kick” goal, which was ranked as the number one goal of the season. Forbes Magazine profiled Carolyn Rafaelian, the billionaire founder of bangle brand Alex and Ani. The Ajam Media Collective ran a piece about singer Seta Hagopian, the “Fairuz of Iraq.” Smithsonian Magazine featured an Armenian cosmetics company that is using ancient botanical recipes in their products. The Armenian Weekly posted a beautiful and moving tribute to Sarkis Balabanian (1882-1963), who risked his life to save hundreds of Armenian children during the Genocide. Michael Winship wrote a piece entitled “The Internet Won’t Let Armenia Go Away” that covers the propaganda war being waged by Turkey against The Promise, an epic Armenian Genocide film funded by the late Kirk Kerkorian.

 

Winship also mentions last week’s firestorm over Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Washington, D.C. The meeting between Trump and Erdogan did not garner much press attention, but Erdogan’s bodyguards’ assault on peaceful protesters sure did. Around two dozen Kurds, Armenians, and leftist Turks, including young women, older people and children, had gathered to protest outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence during Erdogan’s visit. Erdogan’s security detail with the aid of some right-wing counter-protesters violently attacked the protesters, leaving eleven people injured, nine of whom were hospitalized. There was some speculation, based on several videos, that Erdogan himself had ordered his bodyguards to attack the protesters. Everyone from the Washington Post editorial page to Senator John McCain weighed in. The Turkish government went on the attack, blaming the D.C. police for their ‘aggressive actions’ and demanding an apology from the U.S. government. It is almost laughable that the Turkish government, which spends millions of dollars in the U.S. each year for lobbying and propaganda, a great deal of it focused on preventing efforts at Armenian Genocide recognition and a good part spent on demonizing Kurds, has generated so much ill will in such a short time.

 

On the literary front, the Palestine Festival of Literature has just finished its latest season, and next month its tenth anniversary anthology entitled THIS IS NOT A BORDER will be published by Bloomsbury. Having participated in PalFest in 2010, I was invited to contribute to the anthology and wrote a short piece called “Stories from the Armenian Quarter.” In advance of the launch of her second novel (twenty years after the publication of her first novel THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS), Arundhati Roy was profiled in VOGUE. She will be doing a nine-city North American tour in support of THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS. We will be going to the Brooklyn event at BAM.

 

On the film front, I will shamelessly plug two films produced by my spouse. If you haven’t already, you should watch Kitty Green’s brilliant, disturbing, and moving “hybrid documentary” CASTING JONBENET on Netflix. James has just returned from the Cannes Film Festival where Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s PRAYER BEFORE DAWN, which will be released in North America by A24 later this year, received a ten-minute standing ovation at its midnight premiere.

 

And that’s it for my newsy news report (in which I have not until now mentioned glowing orbs, Russia, or cruelty budgets).

 

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Nancy Kricorian

 


From the Archive: The Rapture

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

A Jesus Sky portending the Second Coming of Christ

This poem from the archive, which was published in the Spring 1988 issue of The Graham House Review, has been on my mind lately as the incoming Trump Administration has announced its cabinet picks, with “End Times” Evangelical Christians among them. I was raised in the Armenian Evangelical Church, and a copy of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was on the end table next to my father’s armchair. As a child I had been coached to ask Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior, but I was never entirely convinced that my attempts had been successful (I have a poem about this experience as well). One New Year’s Eve I went to church with my grandmother where we watched a film that enacted what would happen in the during Christ’s Second Coming. Fortunately, the movie didn’t cover the more terrifying aspects: The Tribulation, the Anti-Christ, or Armageddon. It just showed The Rapture, the taking up of believers. A pilot disappeared from his seat in the cockpit. A man rolled over in bed to find his wife gone. A Christian singer disappeared from a performance on a television talk show, the microphone fallen to the stage floor. “The Rapture” was an account of the fate I had envisioned awaiting me.

 

The Rapture

 

 

I imagined coming down the back walk

after school, swinging my lunch box

and the thermos shifting inside.

 

Today was different, something odd

about the light breaking

from behind the clouds in ribbons.

 

My grandmother was not on the back porch.

The kitchen table was spread with flour

and dough rising under its towel, dirty bowls

in the sink, my mother nowhere to be seen.

 

And then I knew: the Second Coming.

Jesus had taken them, the believers,

from the fist of the heart to the tips

of the fingers and shining eyes.

 

The whole family, snapped up

in broad daylight while I walked home,

uninvited, unasked, abandoned.

 

I sat on the back step with the cat,

another unbeliever, waiting for the Beast,

the bloody water, the Tribulation.

Nancy Kricorian


Roses in June

pinkroses

They want a sweet smell from a rose and humaneness from a human.
~ Armenian proverb

 

In the parks and gardens near my New York City apartment, spring unrolls its flowered skirt in a predictable sequence: first the crocuses, followed by the daffodils, tulips, lilacs, and peonies. When June arrives the scent of roses reminds me of my childhood in our backyard garden.

 

We had rose bushes and trellised roses that ranged in color from pale pink to crimson. When I was in grade school I would cut a half-dozen red roses from the bush, pry off the thorns, wrap the stems in a damp paper towel, and then wrap that in tin foil. I brought this bouquet to school as an end-of-the-year offering for the teacher. Soon it would be summer.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian


My Father Said That’s the Devil’s Work

 

sante

 From the archive, a poem originally published in THE GRAHAM HOUSE REVIEW in Spring 1988.

 

My Father Said That’s the Devil’s Work

 

What I passed the Underwood Devilled Ham factory
on our street, he pointed his pitchfork at me.

Satan’s fingers grazed my heels as I stormed
up the cellar stairs, his steamy breath behind.

He was down the bathtub drain ready to wrap
his weedy arms around my legs. I wedged the plug

into the gateway to Hell. He crouched at the foot
of my bed, and I slept pressed into the headboard

away from his flickering tongue. He whispered
swear words into my ear while I dreamed.

Years later, I finally met him in Paris.
He smoked Greek cigarettes called Santé.

In a hotel room in the Marais, he pulled me
to the floor. We kept the shutters closed all week.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Lucky Penny

1956 Wheat Penny

1956 Wheat Penny

 

“Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.” 

 ~ American proverb

 

 

A long time ago my mother told me a story about her brother, my Uncle Gene, who when I was growing up worked as a superintendent in a luxury building in Manhattan. The story went like this:

The night that Gene’s wife June was in the hospital in Concord, New Hampshire giving birth to their first child, my uncle wandered the streets and along the railroad tracks looking for bottles. At the time, each bottle could be turned in for a penny deposit. My uncle stayed up all night collecting bottles and by morning he turned them in, being given in return a lump sum of money. He went to a florist and bought a bouquet of roses that he brought to the hospital for his wife in celebration of their newborn son.

I always thought this a most romantic tale, imagining the devotion of my fierce and dark-haired uncle for his beautiful young wife. But the story also reminded me of the hardscrabble early life of my mother and her sixteen siblings, and impressed upon me the value of a penny.

For some reason this story also translated into a superstition about pennies that developed into a complicated set of behaviors. Walking over a penny lying on the sidewalk implied the wastefulness and arrogance of the wealthy, and it would bring down the ire of God, who hated above all pride and vanity. So if I saw a penny on the sidewalk, even a nasty penny in a dirty gutter, I had to pick it up. To me retrieving the penny was no guarantee of good luck, as promised in the American proverb, but it was the only way to stave off calamity. On the other hand, if I dropped a penny, I reasoned that I should leave it where it had fallen so someone else might pocket a bit of good fortune. I’m not sure why the penny was only a way to prevent misfortune for myself and for another person it was a potential boon, but that’s the way it was.

Funny that I should put that all in the past tense, as though I had outgrown a childish superstition, because to this day when I see a penny, on the floor of a taxi or in the middle of a busy street, I am compelled to pick it up. Both Uncle Gene and Aunt June have passed away, but that story stays with me the way a beloved old movie might—I can see Gene lugging a heavy sack of bottles through darkened streets, and I can imagine June’s face in the morning when he presents her with a dozen hard-won red roses.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian