Saturday, January 10, 2009


So imminent and ever-present was the peril, and so fresh the memory of these dire events in the minds of the non-Mussulman subjects of the sultan, that illiterate Christian mothers had fallen into the habit of dating events as so many years before or after “such and such a massacre.” —George Horton, The Blight of Asia

I stand outside a solid wall
of ancestral olive wood.
It contains gnarly wooden fruits
from the memory of what— once was
an olive branch.
Clutching my camera,
I press my eye
against a gape in the wall to see—
through to the other side.

I spy a woman—she doesn’t see me—
perhaps she’s forty.
Her face swollen red, soaked by tears—
she’s mouthing words in a whisper.
I hear the scratch of her pen
as it moves across
the back of her family icon:

Easter Sunday, 1895

Recalling the day, her body heaves!
On a sheet of plain paper
she draws a line
from up to down.
In the middle
she draws a new line from left to right—
the lines form a cross.
Beneath the cross she writes:

Eternal Their Memory

Her hand quivers—
slowly she pens her husband’s name:
then her sons’ names:

She hands her list to the village priest
furtively waiting at her door. He tells her
he will bless their names
with the names of the other dead.

Her body falls to the floor.
She’s crying, but I hear no sound.
She curls up like a wounded bird
before it dies. Her silence
sears my soul—
as I stand – safe – on the other side.

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