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Poem for My Father’s Voice

 

Visiting my parents in Watertown this week, after my father’s return from a recent hospitalization, reminded of me of this poem I wrote many years ago. Thought it was a good moment to pull it from the archive. 

 

Poem for My Father’s Voice

“Show me,” I’d say, “show me
exactly where in the Bible
it says that dancing is a sin.”
He wouldn’t argue, and even if
I made it to school dances,
my body was lead; I couldn’t move
hearing his long silence.
I never gave up, though; I’d worry
him like a dog worries a squirrel
up a tree, going crazy for wanting
a fight. When I was in college,
I’d take Vermont Transit home
and cross Harvard Yard to meet him
at the store; he peeled off the red
apron and white coat, ran upstairs
to punch out on the clock, and
on the ride home, we’d talk.
His favorite topic was the weather,
until it became a joke between us,
like the popsicle-stick cathedrals
he wanted to build when he retired
until I embarrassed him out of it.
I imagined him gluing and placing sticks
for hours at the table, looking
like an overgrown camper.

Years away from home sanded the edges
off anger; on our rides to and from
the airport or the train, he talked,
and now I didn’t know what to say.
He told me his whole life had been
a waste, except for my mother.
Another time he said, “When I get
to heaven, God will make me perfect,
and I won’t be stupid any more.”
His father had called him
“mentally bankrupt” when he was
a kid working at the family market,
driving deliveries at ten, the cops
kept off with bribes of meat and
butter. “It was during the war,”
he told me, “meat was scarce.”

The last time I came to town, he
explained the doctor wanted to take
a vein from his leg. When he stands
at the block, my father works the knife
in his right hand, leans into
the left leg, and now blood
seeps through the vein making
brown patches under the skin
near the ankle. He pulled up
his pant-leg and rolled down the sock.
He said, “It makes me think of my father.
They took his foot, his calf, then
the leg, and I know it’s not the same,
but I can’t help thinking of it.”

I imagine the dreams at night,
his father’s lost leg hovering
near the ceiling, and his mother’s
heart, so small and tight, moved
into his body. Her pills are now his,
nitro-glycerin under the pillow
of the tongue. I remember times
when I yelled at him, “I hate you,
you’re so stupid.” I liked the sound
of my voice tearing into him, and
wanted to bury him with words. He’d say,
“Shut up. Do you hear me? Shut up.”

 

 

 

Originally published in RIVER STYX Literary Magazine, Number 32, Fall 1990

 

Nancy Kricorian


Solidarity With Puerto Rico

 

The situation in Puerto Rico is dire (described by the governor as ‘apocalyptic’), and if you are like me, you are probably trying to figure out how to help as our cruel and unhinged dotard is doing next to nothing.

 

The natural catastrophe has at least temporarily focused our attention on the people of Puerto Rico, who have been suffering under colonial exploitation and neglect for decades, compounded by the recent debt crisis and subsequent “austerity” measures. The already precarious economic situation of Puerto Rico, where it has been estimated that as of 2014 as many as 86% of children live in ‘high poverty areas,’ has been worsened by the devastation wrought by the hurricane.

 

I asked my friend Yifat at MADRE for a suggestion about where to send support for Puerto Rico’s emergency relief, and she replied that the best place to donate to ensure funds go directly to the most vulnerable communities, including communities historically overlooked (low-income, Afro-Puerto Rican, etc.) is The Maria Fund. You may also donate directly to Taller Salud, one of the groups administering The Maria Fund

 

If you have a few more minutes to devote to the situation in Puerto Rico, please read this article about the U.S. law—the Jones Act—that makes food twice as expensive in Puerto Rico as in Florida. Just yesterday the Department of Homeland Security refused to waive the shipping restrictions specified in the Jones Act. This refusal means that providing emergency relief to Puerto Rico will require more time and cost more money. This is unconscionable. Please take a few more minutes and call your Congressional representatives to say, “Suspend the Jones Act in Puerto Rico. (N.B. Phone calls are the most effective method of making your opinion know to your elected representatives. You can find information on how to contact them here.)

 

Nancy Kricorian

28 September update: This morning Trump temporarily waived the Jones Act in order to speed up shipping of emergency supplies to Puerto Rico.


Empty Nests

 

 

I’ve been meaning to send write a new blog post for weeks. On my daily to-do list for the past tens days, I have dutifully printed, “write blog,” and then ended up copying it onto the next day’s list. So here it is the end of summer—Labor Day is upon us—and I’m finally sitting down to do it.

 

On the personal front, the summer has been a restorative one. We spent long weekends in the country where I worked in the garden and devoted at least an hour a day to watching the birds. On our front porch alone there were three active nests—a family each of robins, house wrens, and house finches with much flying to and fro by the parents and much cheeping by the nestlings. James and I also went to Chicago in July for the Socialism 2017 Conference where we heard some inspiring talks, enjoyed meals with like-minded friends, and felt comfort in assuming that we were the most conservative people in any room. We also took a family holiday to Provincetown in mid-August. I went on an Audubon-led shorebird walk, we spent afternoons on the beach, and we took in two drag shows featuring the supremely talented Jinkx Monsoon.

 

The work on my novel has been slow, but steady, as I continue writing while interviewing Armenians who lived the war years in Beirut in person and via Skype. The stories have been fascinating, and each anecdote feels like a piece in an enormous jigsaw puzzle I’m assembling. I’m planning another trip to Beirut for late October—will be on the ground for two weeks, staying within walking distance of the neighborhoods I’m writing about.

 

On the public front, each day has brought a new outrage or a new disaster, both in this country and abroad. I won’t catalogue all the misery that I’m sure you have been following as well, but I will say that I’ve been trying to find a way to process the unfathomable—both difficult to understand and seemingly bottomless—cruelty of the people currently running our national government.

 

While not a mental health professional, after much observation of Donald Trump’s Tweets, his public appearances, and most recently after reading the full transcript of his speech in Phoenix, I have come to the conclusion that Trump is suffering from cognitive impairment complicated by his long-term narcissistic personality disorder. (James suggested the he might also be a sociopath.) A friend shared an interview from October 2016 with singer Aimee Mann in which she talks about the song she wrote about Trump entitled, “Can’t You Tell?” (The refrain to the song is, “I don’t want this job. I can’t do this job. My God, can’t you tell, I’m unwell, I’m unwell.”) Mann said, “At this point, it’s like being angry at a rabid dog. You just have to solve the problem and get the dog in a cage.” Arguably, easier said than done. The anger is better directed at the enablers in the Republican Party who complain about Trump’s behavior and yet take no meaningful action against him because they’re still hoping to use him as a blunt instrument to push through their cruel and hateful agenda. I have some ire reserved for the Democrats who seem to have learned nothing from their defeat in November (check out this piece for a sizzling takedown of American liberals).

 

For things Armenian: French-Armenian entertainer Charles Aznavour received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame at the age of ninety-three; the New Yorker published a profile of Chess Master Levon Aronian; The Telegraph (UK) ran a piece about Manchester United soccer star Henrikh Mkhitaryan; Smithsonian published an article about the “Nest Neighbors” program in Armenia to monitor white storks; Houshamadyan posted a brilliant demographic study of an Ottoman-Armenian village; Al Jazeera ran an article about war photography featuring Lebanese-Armenian photojournalist Aline Manoukian; and Print Magazine had a delightful post about Armenian typography.

 

On the literary beat, I enjoyed this profile of novelist Claire Messud, My favorite part was this paragraph:

 

Messud frowned when asked if she ever tried to make her work more commercial. ‘‘I reckon you don’t write to please other people,’’ she said, slowly and deliberately. ‘‘That’s what your integrity is.’’ Her voice was husky; we had been talking all morning, as the dogs pattered in and out. ‘‘There are bell bottoms and miniskirts, and there are pencil skirts and stiletto heels,’’ she said. Fashions come and go in literature, too. ‘‘You can write something that’s a perfect work of art, but if it’s a pencil skirt that falls in a miniskirt moment, God help you. You just have to make your pencil skirt and be you.’’

 

Jeff Sparrow wrote a smart and nuanced review of The Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, an anthology edited by Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon. Adam Schatz did a brilliant podcast interview with Wally Shawn for the London Review of Books. I was thrilled to happen across this thorough and appreciative reader review of my third novel on Goodreads.

 

There are so many other interesting articles I could share, but who has time to read them all? I will offer you this last engaging piece from Waging Non-Violence about clowning as a tactic of creative resistance.

 

The bird nests by the pond and on our porch are mostly empty now, our older daughter has moved to Bushwick (in Brooklyn), and our younger daughter has headed off for her senior year in college. The flap and noise of summer will now give way to the quieter but equally colorful days of autumn. I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done!

 


Bible Studies at the White House

 

 

It was reported this week that top Trump Administration officials are attending a weekly Bible Study class in the White House led by an Evangelical minister named Ralph Dollinger, founder of Washington, D.C. based Capitol Ministries. According to an interview Dollinger gave to the Christian Broadcasting Network, regular attendees at the Bible Study include Health Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as a sponsor of the meetings, occasionally drops by, and President Trump has a standing invitation, and each week “receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching.” You can see a full list of the ‘sponsors’ of the weekly Bible study groups (as well as words about Drollinger’s innovative ideas about the separation of church and state)—yes, there is more than one. Drollinger shares his teachings with members of House of Representatives and the Senate at separate meetings. (The Cabinet is served light refreshments, the Senate is offered a hot breakfast, and the Reps have dinner.)

 

What might Drollinger be teaching the highest officials in our land? A quick perusal of the Capitol Ministries site turns up some interesting topics. For example, Drollinger’s “teaching” on same-sex marriage includes gems like this: “Homosexuality and Same-Sex Ceremonies are illegitimate in God’s eyes. His word is repetitive, perspicuous and staid on the subject. For the single or society to engage in or endorse it is to practice sin.” Drollinger was roundly criticized in 2004 for stating that it was a sin for women with children at home to serve in the California State Legislature. Around the same time he also called Catholicism “one of the primary false religions in the world.” His ideas about immigration are Draconian and his thoughts on public assistance are Dickensian.  Drollinger doesn’t believe in Global Warming, he believes there is a Biblical basis for America’s commitment to Israel, and he further believes that God is the ultimate capitalist.

 

One wonders what White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, an avowed Catholic, makes of Dollinger’s Evangelical prayer meetings. But a least Bannon and Dollinger can bond over their shared desire for authoritarianism in America.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

 


Wrens and Finches

Hudson River Valley Sky

 

 

When we were in the country over the weekend, I witnessed a house wren’s taking over the house finches’ nest on our front porch. The much smaller wren tossed the finches’ eggs out of the nest—two small blue eggs lay smashed on the porch floor. Then the wren flew up and down with twigs, using them to effectively barricade the nest so the finches couldn’t get back in. The wren is a noisy, bossy, pushy little bird, and initially I was referring to it as “the jerk.” I soon realized that the finches had found another spot to build a new nest and would lay more eggs, so I grudgingly began to admire the wren’s bubbly song, and energetic foraging.

 

Deer and rabbits (maybe also chipmunks and woodchucks?) ravaged the zinnias and nasturtiums in our garden, leaving untouched the salvia and marigolds. They also chewed to the root the parsley, but ignored the more odiferous herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon. Someone uprooted one of the tomato plants, and nibbled some leaves off another. I went to the nursery and bought two more varieties of salvia, as well as flowering golden mint, and flowering basil—pretty but NOT tasty to deer and rabbits. The tall blue salvia almost immediately attracted the whirring wings of ruby-throated hummingbirds. At the nursery I also found a product called Liquid Fence, which is a smelly concoction of egg white, garlic, and thyme. When you spray it around the garden beds, it’s supposed to ward off the deer and rabbits, which apparently don’t like the smell. Wish us luck!

 

I’ve been working slowly but steadily on my novel about Armenians in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War—in the past few weeks I’ve been taking a break from writing, and have been doing immersive research. Ara Madzounian’s beautiful photos of Bourj Hammoud, one of the neighborhoods featured in my novel, give you a sense of the place as it is now. (Ara solicited writing from me for his 2015 book, BIRD’S NEST, and “Homage to Bourj Hammoud” was published as part of the PEN World Voices Anthology.) I’m completely engrossed by the research, and I’m starting to mull a return trip to Lebanon, likely in October, so I can fill in more pieces of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of Beirut during the Civil War that I’m building in my head.

 

As we mark the fiftieth year of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, there have been dozens of articles examining this sad milestone from various perspectives. One of my favorites is Yousef Munayyer’s “Reframing the 1967 War” in THE NEW YORKER. Yousef concludes, “Marking fifty years means that it is time to admit that the intention of occupation policies is not a temporary condition but a permanent one. It means recognizing that the Israeli state denies self-determination to millions of Palestinians who live there.”

 

My contribution to the Palestine Festival of Literature Anthology THIS IS NOT A BORDER, a piece entitled “Stories from the Armenian Quarter,” was published in The Armenian Weekly. Marcia Lynx Qualey, who writes the Arab Lit blog, wrote an interesting review comparing THIS IS NOT A BORDER to a similarly themed anthology entitled KINGDOMS OF OLIVES AND ASHES, which was edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. Ahdaf Soueif, novelist and founder of PalFest, wrote movingly for The Guardian about the festival’s ten years, and Chabon and Waldman were interviewed about their anthology on LitHub.

 

And for your additional reading (and viewing and listening) pleasure:

 

Almost a month after the incident, U.S. officials have announced that members of Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail who assaulted peaceful protesters outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in D.C. on May 16 will be charged for their actions.

 

A sizzling piece by Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs about Hillary and Bill Clinton’s use of slaves in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.

From Atlas Obscura a great piece about the use of knitting to relay secret messages during wartime.

 

Funny or Die’s parody video about the President’s Personal Spray Tanner, played by Armenian actor Ken Davitian.

 

Pink Martini sings the Armenian pop song Ov Siroun Siroun.

 

Merriam Webster explains the difference between herbs and spices.

 

And finally, here is a beautiful piece by Siddhartha Mukherjee from The New Yorker entitled Love in The Time of Numbness; or Doctor Chekhov, Writer.

 

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2017