Sunday, June 13, 2010

Live from the Bowery Poetry Club: Amir Parsa

Gartal and the Armenian Poetry Project are proud to release this audio clip recorded live at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City on April 2, 2010. Click to hear Lola Koundakjian’s reading of his poem Attempt at the reconstitution of a portrait of Ms. P. IV

Attempt at the reconstitution of a portrait of Ms. P. IV


What was her first name?
Her name… I don’t know her first name…We just called her by her last name. Khanoom…
Pat-magrian. Not Patmagharian?
Well, no… When we didn’t know her we would call her Badmagharian. Bahd… magharian. Like bahd, the wind…
Why Bahd? Why Bahdmagharian…
It’s Pah. Pah…
Yes, I got it… But how did it happen that…
That’s what they told us. They told us her name was Bahdmagharian.

Who told you?
I told her one day, I’m sorry, I think we don’t really know your name because we say it this way. We say it this way...
You said what, exactly?
I said, we say Khanoom Bahdmagharian…
She said “Na, man Patmagryan hastam.”
Hastam… Like that?
Yeah. I’m Patmagryan…


(Draft I, Take 1.
(The attempt at the reconstitution of a portrait of Khanoom P. is rooted in a sincere—and obsessive—desire to know… and understand the piano teacher practicing in the city of Tehran in the years 1974-1979. It is an attempt at the piecing together of perceptions and images, of desires and memories, of sounds, of fragments, of impressions, of sensations. At the grasping of the fullness of a personhood. Or…

(Draft I, Take 2.
(The attempt at the construction of a portrait of Ms. P. is founded upon pillars of solitary contemplation and of silent peering, of sudden rushes and flows of images called, perhaps mistakenly, memories. Founded upon deliberate design of methods for the acquisition of information, also: conversations, enactments, dialogues and polylogues, research: all contribute to the redrawing of the contours of her life. One that, I have come to understand, merits special study and analysis. These various elements molded together will inevitably provide insight into her life path, into the many decisions and acts that led to the events that shall not yet be revealed.

Khanoom P. always looked at you and said: Een tchemhayé ahoo-ro ki dadé bé tow!
This is all she ever said?
Not all, but what I remember.
Why did you want me to learn piano. Learn an instrument?
We thought it was a nice instrument. Something to play.
We thought, when you get older, when you’re bored, you could do something… This was our goal… Learn something… Have some sargarmi… Not get bored… Learn something… and so we picked this…
How old was I?
In school… What, six, seven…
How many years did I go?
Two, three years…

– Funny thing is, she didn’t teach you songs… She didn’t reach you tavvalod tavvalod, she would really teach you the foundations, the science of… And we didn’t really understand then you know, we would say, she’s not teaching you anything!
– So you wanted her to teach me songs, and she only taught…
– I told her once… I said, he doesn’t know how to play any songs! And she said wait for a while, he needs to first learn the basics… The notes and…
– …
– Yeah we would say, why doesn’t she teach them songs. He doesn’t know how to play tavvalod or anything. Notes and… Not just notes but not songs either…
– You thought if somebody’s going to a teacher they’re just gonna teach the songs?
– Yeah they’re telling them go learn tavvalodet mobarak and you play it and we’d all sing happy birthday to you!
– You didn’t know that she needed to teach the foundations?
– We did we did… But we also wanted you to learn songs… I mean, how long do the foundations take…
– And what would she say when you told her?
– She’d say no, yeah, I could teach him that but that doesn’t mean anything… Halla tavvalodet mobarak bezaneh, she’d say, so what
– And the things you’d play, it was a nice sound, pretty sound, but it was you know, music stuff and not songs that we knew…
– Two three years I went, twice a week?
– Yeah, twice a week…

 (Has she passed away. Is she… Her sister: “Ms. P. was a refugee. She was holding down the fort. She was great at acting. She was…”

Her cousin: “Patmagryan was not really a musician. She only taught for a while to eek out a living while she waited for her father, who had been imprisoned. She had never shown much talent. She never really studied. She…”

I continuously fashion new tales around her. Rather: begin the process of creating stories, yet dutifully stop. Interviews and conversations—and then tales. The instinct to fictionalize is halted though, through some dubious self-imposed ethical imperative. The banal articulation of the attempt at drawing an accurate portrait, perhaps not of her, but of the memory of her personhood in relation to myself, is felt more urgently than any extravagant tale-weaving—of the highest merit even.

I was born in Tehran. My mother was made an orphan in 1915. She was saved by Arab nomads and a pasha who took a great liking to this wondrous and red-haired child. She was only four, and she lived with the nomads, in a tent. They would dress her up, put her hair in golden tresses. And they tattooed her face. An Armenian girl adopted by the Pasha. She does not even know her name at this point. All she knows is the sign of the cross. An Armenian couple appeared and knew that this must be an Armenian child. They take her to Alepp, in what is today modern Syria. One day, after years of her living with this couple, a woman appears and recognized her because of her red hair. She tells her her name. Your mother was my best friend, she says. You were born in Tokat. This is where she finds out about her real identity. She marries my father and they move to Iran. When she wanted to get married, they had to remove her tatoos. The tatoos that had been given her by the Arabs. The tattoos that had made her part of the tribe. She takes the name of my father. Patmagryan. I was born in Tehran, a child of the city, a child of the genocide. Like you, O child of the revolution.

(This is not my story. This is not an accurate fragment of my autobiography. The story you tell is that of one Eugenie Kuskerian. She is the one who was made an orphan. She is the one who was adopted by Arab nomads. She is the one who was taken in by an Armenian couple. She is the one who was subsequently taken in by the friend of her mother’s. She is the one who was taken to Alepp. She was the one born in Tokat. She is the grandmother of Lola Koudakjian. I am not the child of Eugénie Kuskérian. I was born in Tehran to a woman who was born in New Julfa, among the descendents that Shah Abbas moved to the city. My father escaped the fangs of attacks in Turkey and moved to Iran. He became politically active and later settled in Tehran with my mother. I am not the child Eugénie Kekserian. I am a child of the city. Like you. One voice among the many. One voice that will help you with my story. Voice of the lost ones and voice of the forgotten. Voice of redemptions and voice of rebirths. Another, among the voices of the portrait. I, even I, only another, among the voices for the attempt at reconstructing the portrait of Khanoom Patmagryan, I— )


She says she doesn’t remember a thing. Not a photo on the mantel, of a child, a mother, family, nothing. Nothing about the apartment too. The color of the walls, the furniture. Okay, the color of the walls yes: beige. Beige, why beige? Because all the Iranians had beige as the color of their walls. The rug (I) I’m sure there was a rug on the floor. A Persian rug? That’s all we ever had there. What about the colors, the design. Do you remember it? The rug (II) No, I don’t remember any of it. I swear. Just that there was a rug? Yeah, just that. How can you be sure then. I mean, how do you remember that? How can you be sure there was a rug? The rug (III) The texture. The feel of the home. It’s cozy. Small, cozy. There was a rug, I’m sure. Not too big though, no? Not too big.
Now that I think about it, maybe she lived with her mother, she says. I ask her why she thinks Ms. P. lived with her mother. I’m not sure, maybe the fact that she lived alone.

I can’t imagine somehow that she had a father who ran a factory and who was rich and…
Good student you think?
No, not really, an artist, not necessarily a good student.
And you think she wanted to be a great pianist or just she played and wanted to make a decent living or…
No… Just played and had students and taught at the academy… Of course anyone could at some point have wanted it but these becoming big things, you need luck and circumstances and paarti too… or maybe even she was in some conservatory… and I don’t know…
You think she wanted to have kids?
Yes… Yes… Because you know, at that time, there wasn’t really anyone who didn’t want to have kids… Really, I’m serious… It wasn’t like now… Boro baba kids are too much, they cost so many thousands a year or whatever… People had kids and they loved kids… And people who didn’t have kids they’d be very sad… Other people would feel very bad for them…
So you think ghosé mikhord? Did you sadness in her eyes?
No, no… And who know, maybe she even had kids… I couldn’t know…
You think she was born  in Tehran
Yeah, I do…
Bu the way, where am I born. I mean, actually born. Where was I born?
You too. You were born in Tehran. In Tehran.

In the movies, the adult version of a young child hovers above the scene. Follows the action unseen. Silent gaze. The piano teacher instructs the child to replay a portion of the score. Instruction on the placement of his hands. The flow. Instructions on. The adult hovering smiles at the nervousness of his young self. Knowing his lack of enthusiasm. How he carried on though. How he forged forth, unwilling to disappoint. Haalaa een yekí: the instructions again. Did you practice it? The question. The young version anxiously answers that he has. The adult overlooking the scene at the doorway cannot hold back anymore and takes a step forward and intervenes—aloud, but softly. He says: he practiced it only once, twice, maybe. He doesn’t like to play piano. He likes you though, and he doesn’t want to disappoint you. I think… I think he doesn’t want you to think that his not liking the piano is in any way a reflection on you.

In the movies, the thin and classy Khanoom Patmagryan turns around and smiles at the man speaking softly to her with the young boy seated next to her on the piano chair. She says: who are you?

(The attempt at the reconstitution
of an image of Ms. P. is a nothing more
than a despaired attempt at
creating a portrait of the self.
A fragmented portrait.
The eternally fragmented unfolding portrait of the self.)

On a rainy evening on the sidewalk of a city of fog and light, I heard one night—or should I say, one morn—a funky sound coming from the near. I entered at 3 a.m. a lonely bar in the underground—literally—of a walk-up along a cobble-stone street. I am drunk I am drunk!, I started to sing, but nary a word came from my lips. I sat among the few patrons, in the darkness and solitude. There, a piano player, frail and thin, his eyes unmoving, his hands gliding, lost in his world, a piano player with a big beard. Ahoy ahoy!, I wanted to sing, I too in a daze of drunkenness sitting alone with the other patrons of the night. I peered at the piano player in all his might, and although no words came to me, I saw her face, the face of my piano teacher, of the city of birth… and goodbyes. A name again, Patmagharian, and its echos, conversations imagined, scenes enlivened. Cities and streets. K-Pat, Khanoom P., Ms. Patmagharian. The room, the rug, there, the piano. Whether she has kids or not, how big the apartment is, where she was born. To none I had the answer, not even with all the voices swirling still.. Oh yes, I have concocted a merry song, with reveries and imagined tales—and still, a feeble attempt at the reconstruction of a portrait of Ms. P. it had turned into. I knew, after endless memories and queries with cities of sand and dust, there was only one thing, I really knew: that her name: was Patmagryan—and not, Patmagharian. Khanoom Patmagryan, the piano teacher, in Tehran. The attempt at the reconstruction of the portrait was for naught… I am drunk I am drunk!, I ached to sing, with this portrait also, I am drunk! And the illumination: the attempt t the portrait was now done, and full. In fact, it was, the portrait. And, as the piano player carried on, I, alone with the voices round the life of Ms. Patmagryan, with a smile stood from the table, drunk on wine and with visions to come, with the name of the one piano teacher on my mind, Khanoom Patmagryan, until soon, I shouted to the company, in the wee hours of the morn, and into the rain I went—and out.

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