Saturday, October 07, 2006

Peter Balakian: To Arshile Gorky

Click here to hear the clip To Arshile Gorky read by Lola Koundakjian.

1. Landscape

The sun hangs all day in sight.
Highsummer is on me. I watch
the fantailed leaves of the chestnut
spread in the air. Hemlock and rose
bring back the purple earth.
Before my eyes this very noon
three cardinals rising from fuschia
became a plume thinning in the air.

In my boyhood garden
my father's vines were weighty
with the honey-scent of hanging things -
eggplant, color of the blood-in-vein.
The sun falling through our giant oak
lit the grass, moss, ivy;
in silver light they eddied as a tide
and all the fence dissolved around his hands.

2. Anatomy

In the shade where suckle falls
like gentle water over our side fence,
the eyes see eggs. Rabbits nest
in the wild carrot. When I walk out
to the empty summer garden my father
used to tend, my tendons are drawn
out like zither strings. A raccoon hides
in the tissues of the stomach.

The blood that drives my thighs
a thousand times by night rises
in each milky spike of weed
and by morning spills into the lavender
you call the day.

Here, your heart's an apricot
lost on a tree; columbine, a flock
of doves, rises in my mouth.

3. History

Cousin, uncle, brother, fellow
townsman, I come to you this day
deported with berry soil on my hands.
Somewhere between your lake in Armenia
and this place there is a trail
of ash -- almost chalk -- to bring
the limbs back to fullness.
Your mother's stomach is a dried fig

on your palette. Though swallows
glide and turn through the rope
still hanging in your barn,
in this ghostly light you are a shadow:
off-white, then gray, then a wisp
of flame rising in the dust.

This poem has appeared in the volume "Reply from Wilderness Island", Sheep Meadow Press, 1988, and is used here by kind permission.

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