Excerpts from David Kherdian, Living In Quiet: New & Selected Poems
Root River Picnics
Down to the mudwash river we went in Uncle Jack’s
putt-putt Model-A Ford and poured our summer dresses
and different ages and shoes and strung poles and baskets of
food and eagerness and gentleness onto the trembling
sun-drenched earth and then we went our separate ways
we to fishing and you to grape leaf picking and then the
gathering of us all to the blanket-spread picnic lunch
although all we wanted to do was fish while you were
trying to forget your scattered relatives and your many
dead and if you cannot bury them even now know that
our memories lie as deep—as deep as one has to go into a
shallow mud-washed river to bring out a round and leaping
freckled and blue-gilled fish for that was all the magic we
could want and that river yes in the depths of that river
was all the mystery we would care to try and ponder
with heart and mind and line while you were where
you were and where I remember you now no longer
in a huddle but one by one your names before me your
histories spent your time allotted but with your lives
new again and as indestructible as ours.
We will never leave the picnic
our mothers ever beautiful
in their summer dresses
Our fathers with straw hats
and colored suspenders
A blanket spread upon the meadow
cane poles strung
with bobbers dancing over
the slow moving stream
The grapeleaves gathered
in the basket
will never be taken home
the sandwiches will be eaten
again and again
And clouds will gather and part
the sun will rise and recede
night will come
And then tomorrow again and again
It must have been 1950. Racine, Wisconsin.
Was I nineteen. Was my father sixty
or sixty-one—the age I am now.
It must have been my first car, a Plymouth.
My father never drove, nor my mother.
Only one Armenian family,
as I remember, owned a car back then.
It is evening and I am driving him
to the Veteran’s building for some event
or meeting that he is attending.
We are downtown before I realize that
he is uncertain of the address.
He is used to walking everywhere,
and has become disoriented in my car
(but I don’t realize any of this
at the time). I am being impatient
with him. I don’t like being his chauffeur,
I want to get on with my life, not
be a helpmate in his.
Pull over, he says, reading my thoughts.
Which I do, feeling a little
uneasy, my conscience fighting
with my impatience. But I
pull over. He gets out and quickly
begins his hurried walk—
the walk I will always know
him by, and that I will always remember
when I think of him and think of myself.
He gets out in front of Woolworth’s.
It is dark out, but the street lights
are not on, and I am there, alone
in the semi-darkness,
unable to move, my car stationed at the curb.
And I am there still, watching,
staring at his back as he moves away,
knowing the Veteran’s building
is just three blocks away.
I would call if he could hear me
but he is on his own and alone
as I am
with whatever this is that I am.
Mother Father Poem
Perhaps it is time to remember
ourselves and each other as we were,
not warring but not yet at peace,
only together with our different
concerns and needs, unaware
still of the mixed torment
in our changing lives,
you pulling back into the vast abyss,
I pushing forward to where
you could not follow.
Nor did I look back for you then,
and hardly since.
I regret the sorrow I caused
you, even as you were
unaware of the sorrow
you caused me.
Or did you know?
And did you keep it from me,
for my own good, and for reasons
I can only surmise.
I am sorry for your lives.
I was always sorry for
your lives. But not as sorry
as I was for my own.
And that is my guilt, if I have
any guilt to confess,
from that time we shared,
worlds away from each other,
as if we had a chance or choice.
And I know now we did not.
Father, your crippled gait
from a fall, mother
your calf-scarred leg,
so hard to look upon,
caused by the bombing
of your home by the Turks.
What was my grief against
that? And yet I saw it only
for what it inhibited in me:
this life I knew for myself,
by myself, that I knew you did not,
while I fought for it as you
had once fought for your own,
that I saw only as a shadow on mine.
This numbness has taken a lifetime
to lift. Now, in your lowered graves,
I beseech you to look upon the
empty space I will fill once
we come to be joined again,
because we were always one.
A benediction will pass
between us: understanding,
recognition—all of it calling for a name.
I know you now differently than I did then,
and yet I know you hardly at all.
Photo de la série "To the Tsitsernakaberd" d'Anahit Hayrapetyan