Saturday, August 12, 2006

Leonardo Alishan: The Game

Click to hear the audio clip The Game read by Yeraz Markarian.

When papa was in a good mood
he played hide and seek
with my little brother and me
in grandma's huge orchard in Isfahan.

Sacco hid the best.
Papa, the worst. And I
didn't like to hide at all.
But we were together and it was fun.

We went on playing
as the years went by. One
hid in England, one in America,
and papa stayed counting in Iran.

Then we found each other again
and again we played.
But there was a problem now:
whoever hid, could not be found again. . .

Oh, my most beloved ghosts,
this is your brother, this is your son,
and I'm done counting!
Ready or not, here I come.

Leonardo Alishan (1951-2005)

Leonardo Alishan was born of Armenian parents in Tehran, Iran. He came to the U.S. for graduate studies in 1973 and from 78-97 he taught Persian literature and comparitive literature at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. His poems and stories have been published in a variety of national and international journals and have been the recepient of a number of literary awards. Alishan's first collection, Dancing Barefoot on Broken Glass, appeared in New York in 1991. His second, Through a Dewdrop was published in Glendale, California in 2002. "Tired Thoughts" was awarded the People Before Profits Poetry Prize for 2003.


narine karamyan said...

Marvellous, true, real - what a voice!

Thomas said...

This poem is especially moving to me because I was a good friend of Sacco Alishan, Leonardo's brother.
I met Sacco in 1977 in Shiraz, Iran. I was teaching, Sacco had been conscripted against his will by the Iranian army.
We saw each other often that year. He would escape from his barracks and come to my apartment and talk about his life before the army. His life in Isfahan, in London, his family. It was a sad period for him because his best friend, a beautiful young man named Armick, had committed suicide.
Shortly before I left Iran, Sacco had committed himself to a military mental hospital. He believed if he acted crazy enough, he could get a psychiatric discharge, and go back to London, where his father Michael operated an art gallery specializing in Russian art.
Apparently that worked, and about four months later, Sacco was back in London.
Three years later I went to London from the US to visit Sacco. He did not seem well, and his father, whom I met, was very worried about him. We had a great reunion, but I left feeling worried too.
I lost touch after that. Recently I learned of the fire that killed Leonardo in Utah. I also learned that Sacco had died shortly before then; and a friend of Leonardo wrote to me and said that Leonardo was deeply affected by Sacco's death, and never recovered emotionally.
There is so much more I wish I knew about Sacco and his rich and gifted family.
For now, all I have are my own memories of my days with Sacco and this stunning poem, which somehow, in just a word or two, captures the essense of what I knew of this beautiful young man.
Sacco will always be smiling in my thoughts of him; he had a dazzling, contagious smile and his bottomless eyes always sparkled.

Chris Galli / XC Skies said...

After Leonardo's death, I discovered this poem searching for his works on the Internet. Like Thomas, this was especially important to me having spent so many days with Sacco and quite a few with Leonardo in Salt Lake City Utah. Sacco's love of the game backgammon and strong coffee instantly rooted us in a very deep relationship. We spent many hours and days each week together sharing stories. Sacco's love of sharing his youth and better days spent across the world captivated my imagination.
When I left Salt Lake for a few years, Sacco and I wrote each other every few weeks. It was through our writing that I got to know Sacco even more. It was also through writing that I came to know Leonardo in more than just a social context. Our love of language, philosophy, and classic literature bound us together in ways I did not understand at the time. I was only 17 years old when we met.
I played a game of backgammon in a park with Sacco a few days before his death. I still remember the crispness of the air, the smell of the leaves, and his penetrating gaze and smile when he would win yet another game and modestly proclaim, "What can I say?"
As I get older and reflect on our relationship, there is so much more that I would like to know. So many more conversations I would like to have. And so many more games of backgammon I would like to play.