Friday, July 18, 2008

James Baloian: Fresno Indian

I lived underground during the 1950’s
in the wake of my father’s habitual
and unknown rage to weave himself
through the stagnant air creating an alphabet
of icicles from the eave of his wooden
He struggled in web of private conversations
and kept us silent with threats and abandonment—
orphaned to invisibility where dreams
on the urgency of boredom.
…..And being 10 years old I would slip
like a lizard into a pool of shadows
finding a pathway from his dark window
down the yellowy fragrance of a lemon
studded with thorns
and into my grandmother’s backyard garden
where imaginary winds dusted with sunlight
lingered beneath a veil of star-faced jasmine—
I listened to the growing of things
whose boundaries opened into wilderness
where the city stopped and farmland
spilled like ink over the landscape for
Screen doors swung easy like clockwork
in a trusting wind which seemed strange
on a planet where nightly
blue-collared fathers knee-deep in backyards
dug bomb-shelters after work and on
with nightmare delusions of reddened skies
swallowed by mushroomed clouds
Families struggled sinking
silently into a lifetime of expectations
Their other selves left to keep appearances
ran for discovery from this grand illusion
of green lawns and a perfect death
No one really slept
buried up to their necks in schedules and
watching children disappear into a blank
of no return…….across an outfield of
timeless summers
forged with long hours and hunched
looking for work and the American grail
even on Sundays before dinners in coppertinted
tanned by the oily seasoning of garlic and
where windows hung like portraits of
from far away lands
At 13 I heard schoolmates point in slow
at the Armenian in me and the invisibility
that was visible
in a Kingdom where dreams survive on
long tables of diplomacy
and reality speaks from the splintered lips
of baseball bats
threatening the heroes of this poem
to bleach their dark skins white
They called Armenians, “Fresno Indians,”
with our hollowed eyes and eagle-beaked
but my grandmother said
they called us, “Starving black Armenians….
Those whose promises
promised nothing
in a land that genocided its natives
with no reservation
We were no strangers to genocide
Fugitives of dust
We blurred into borders and brown-faced
to wait like grass for winter’s first rain
We survived the delirium of previous lives
as if some god had forgotten us
and ordered our children to bleed
and our earth bitten and bled
by tooth and nail……
We breathed life without a cry
our skins emerging from an undergrowth
of syllables
unfold from the simple grace all miracles
…….The ranches I knew as a boy have
turned to salt
and winter like my grandmother’s unbunned
white hair
haunts the ruins of broken mirrors
in empty stations looking for the river
back to eden
praying a melody on the green side of
She assumes what is necessary for the moment
to shape what remains after death
And who once having lived
a life on the edge
sits at an empty table
Her hands drink a headful of bad dreams
and everything that she was before
commands the wind
to sing in Armenian

ARMENIAN TOWN: poetry by Paul Aloojian, James Baloian, Y. Stephan Bulbulian, Ronald Dzerigian, Michael Krekorian, Brenda Najimian-Magarity. Foreword by Dickran Kouymjian, copyright 2001 by the William Saroyan Society.

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