As published in In Focus Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2015
Gar Ou Chgar (Once Upon A Time)
Tell me that story again, father.
The story about the mutilated country
and its slaughtered dreams.
About the church which wept,
the truth which was accused of lying,
the voices which were torn like limbs.
Tell me about the country where we werenít born
but where we die every day of our lives.
Tell me again why Armenian stories are so sad
and why there are so many letters to choke on
when the words stop and your lips quiver.
Tell me how you wish there wasnít,
but there was. And that it isnít a story
It is our history.
Gar ou chgar.
There was and there wasnít.
It is so much easier to start off
“Once upon a time” and to end “happily ever after”.
But nothing is ever easy in the stories you tell me.
Museum Exhibits: Life in Reverse
Exhibit 4: Map of an Island Ripped in Half,
Sellotaped Across the Middle.
Exhibit 3: Radio which made Announcement
of Turkish Invasion.
Exhibit 2: Snapshot of Poet as Child
Floating in Blue Waters.
Exhibit 1: Grain of Sand from Beach
in Famagusta, Cyprus.
She reached the line:
the perfume, the white scent
leading her. Jasmine.
It was her childhood again,
visiting; like that small breath
of flowers from another’s garden
as she passed by, a child playing
the fence railings like the harp.
Come, come, the scent pulled her,
Always. But the garden was not hers,
she was told. Nor was the aroma,
which lured and dared her to trespass.
Now, as she crossed the unstraight,
the invisible, the impenetrable line,
and as the blue-bereted soldier
watched her feet closely, eye-measuring
the millimetres, and as his mouth
opened to call out HALT!
she was a child again, running, strong.
HALT! they called but she didn’t turn.
Furious pages were missing in the book
of her life. And, breathless, she thought
of the jasmine she was to find; the house
she was to see; the garden; the fence;
and her father’s buried heart.
The past came to visit again last night,
wrapped her arms round my neck
and whispered: It’s me. Don’t forget.
I knocked at a door which a woman opened.
She said in Turkish: Come in. Welcome.
She handed an album of photos of me,
my husband, our children, this house,
pre-1974. The blue album. My living room.
I kept these for you, she said.
I thanked her in Greek. Efcharisto poli.
A tiny space the size of a pinhead
between each word stung the air, the moment,
the dream. She offered coffee and sweets.
One of us was guest, the other hostess – but which?
Oh, there are some dreams which make no sense.
Turn over the cup, she said. I will you tell
your fortune, and we will learn the future.
Yes, I said, yes. We leant like two friends over a secret
and the patterns of the future on the walls of the cup,
made us weep on each other’s shoulders
all those thirty year old tears, finally, belatedly;
two sisters who were mothers, wives, daughters,
so long ago. Then the past came and sat between us
and woke me with a whisper:
It’s me. Don’t forget.
Two Figures in a Small Boat
He and she take it in turns to row the boat with their arms,
eat raw fish, read moonlit maps, crush stars into milk, swallow storms.
They kiss dark nights and suck the strength of each other’s breath,
feel the waves inside their bodies become foam before falling into sleep.
He dreams he does not exist and she sighs as if she knows tonight
is all fantasy. They are figments of their imagination, these nights, these boats.
Only the fish are real, they gleam.
In the audience,
the eyes of the astonished shells.
My body is water,
My body is light,
craved, dazzling, an enigma.
My body is sand,
flowing upwards through the hourglass,
filling me, pushing me into lucid air,
bathing me with transparence,
gushing me into perfection,
sculpting me free.
I am becoming a goddess.
I am rising.
The distance between us
is a small crab.
I put it in my mouth,
crush its ego with my teeth,
crunch until they hurt, until it bleeds.
Then my tongue moves into your mouth
and nips its soft walls of flesh,
while the music of pebbles
grinding each other
enters my ears.
They grew up watching the salt scattering flight of gulls,
the horizon and the chaos of waves. By day, they waited for ships.
Every night, when the world fell asleep,
they walked into the sea. It was like entering their past.
Their feet disappeared first, then their legs, their necks and lips.
They liked to think that somewhere in the pitch black
they would find their beginning, that they would finally be comforted.
For Basim Furat, Emad Jabbar and Yilma Tafere Tasew
We crossed the desert, leaving our hearts behind;
travelled through explosions of days and nights
to step onto the cold, wild shore of a new life.
We crossed the desert, blinding our memories,
pouring handfuls of sand to burn the sockets;
to fill the hole where a heart should beat.
On this cold, wild shore, a new life.
We sleep by the ocean, and listen
for voices from the past in the waves.
We sleep by the ocean, and wait
for salt surf to wash over the wounds.
We sleep by the ocean, and let
seagulls tear at the healing scars.
We sleep by the ocean, and dream
of the warmth of sweat and blood.
The time came when they longed to return.
My father walked circles in the living room,
my mother packed and unpacked her hands.
We will leave when the rain stops, they said.
The rain in this country is so unkind.
The time came when they could no longer return.
My father sat in his remote corner of silence,
my mother leant into lamplight and threaded sighs.
We will leave when the rain stops, she said,
hummed intricate tunes, sewed invisible tears.
They covered most of the rocks by the sea.
It was difficult to know which was bird and which was rock.
Which was sea and which was sky.
Flash, Bullet Train*
I will arrive carrying
a rice paper parcel
full of the love letters
I never sent you.
You will recognize me
by the cherry petals
falling off my hair
Across my face.
My eyes will recite
haikus about snow
and the taste of plums
Hidden in winter.
On my cold feet,
snowdrops and on the
snowdrops, my cold feet,
Achingly small and bitter.
The station will be totally empty
and white, except for a rustle
from my dark red kimono
and the breath of a bullet train
*The poem “Flash, Bullet Train” was awarded Third Prize in the Envoi International Poetry Competition, 2004.
I fed my voice to the seagulls.
Watched them snap at my lips
with their polished yellow beaks,
squabble and tear and devour
every little scrap of my last song.
That night, he rolled the stockings down,
kissed the soft white of my new legs.
I will teach you to dance, he said.
I nodded in the dark. Yes.
I wanted to say:
And I will teach you to converse with waves.
I want to be the woman
you are painting.
I want you to choose
my eyes, skin, lips,
to invent me today.
I want to be the subject
of this canvas,
a title like “Woman Reborn”
or “Woman Alive”,
or, simply, “Woman”.
I want you to sign
the right hand corner
of my heart and frame my face
with your hands and hold me still
for twenty, thirty and forty years
as if I am a masterpiece
you do not want to part with.
As if painting me was
the best thing
you ever did
in your life.
I look at the horizon for a trillion, trillion years.
It will happen, perhaps, and I will be a witness. The earth
will miraculously cure itself. Water will turn into ice. Mesmerised, I will
watch the white sculptures, remember the Arctic and its magnificence,
and shiver on the shore. The sun will play tricks on my mind, engraving
on the pure white ice the shadow of a long stalk. A single, red tulip.
Congratulations, this flower is for you: the only human still alive,
the only one who still believes in miracles.
I Studied the Silence of the Stars
I studied the silence of the stars,
the black, icy skies, the skeletons of trees.
For centuries my mind was at work,
sharp yet bitter, and now old and strange.
When I speak, I still lisp like a boy,
and on certain untroubled, lucky nights,
when I dream of the unicorn, its musky smell
and wild hooves –
I imagine that tomorrow will take my hand,
and teach me to write one more book
which will astonish the world.
On the other pillow is a ladybird which escaped from a dream.
It reminds me of when I was a tiny red polka dot. And then bigger, and other colours. And then…
I stare at the ceiling, searching its soul for little things. The ladybird touches my arm,
whispers that it wants to be a tattoo.
I ask it to tell me what it’s like to live in and out of dreams.
I enter your room
late at night through the window,
like a lizard –
nestle in the warmest crevices
of your body, totally still,
kiss the rich, strange smell of your sweat.
The world has no corners tonight.
I travel over your body with small feet,
reach your heart. It beats beneath me,
drums against my pulse.
I shed tiny tears onto your skin.
You sigh in your sleep.
You whisper a name.
That was all I wanted to know.
I leave as quietly as I entered,
from your body onto the wall;
reach the window sill –
into the suspended night.
when we meet underwater
by the soft blue mussel beds
when my hair dances slow motion
its unruly tentacles round your face
when my lips like excited little fish
swim circles around your mouth
don’t whisper bubbles that life is running out
or break your wetsuit squeezed lungs away
don’t rush up to the surface of cowards
just watch me gasp for oxygen
Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and short story writer. She has published three collections of poetry: The Voice at the Top of the Stairs (2001), Cleft in Twain (2003) and 25 Ways to Kiss a Man (2004). Cleft in Twain was cited by The Guardian in an article on the literature of the new European Union member states in 2004. Her poetry has been translated into German, Czech, Maltese, Arabic and Turkish.
In addition to a book of short stories, Ledra Street (2006), her work has been published online and in journals in the UK, USA, Australia and elsewhere. She has also won prizes and commendations at international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition, the Binnacle International Ultra-Short Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize.
Other publications include a bilingual English-German edition of selected poems (Hochroth) and inclusion in two prestigious anthologies: Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press) and Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011).
Her second book of short stories Girl, Wolf, Bones was published by Folded Word (USA) in 2011 and the story “Sparrow” appeared in the Irish Times. One of her poems was included in A River of Stories, an anthology of tales and poems from across the Commonwealth, illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski. The foreword written by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
She has also infused her fiction with art work and/or photography. She is the creator of the video art entitled “My Face Is My Own” (2010), where text and photographs map the cartography of human faces picked at random from the streets of Cyprus. She has also collaborated with Nicolas Panayi in his work “Ten Seas,” where two monitors projected the text of her poetry gradually emerging through the photographic images of the melancholic landscape (Zygi) and the wave-like lips of the poet reciting. In 2011 she took part in The Fiction Project with her work “It Touches Everything”, which is a book of hand-made pages of short stories and collages where text is enriched visually. It went on tour in the United States and is now archived in the Brooklyn Art Library’s collection.
Her work was recently included in an anthology of poetry in honour of “The International Day of Happiness” distributed on 20 March 2015 at the UN Headquarters in New York.