Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Lorne Shirinian: The Rule of Three

For my grandsons Rafael, Ari, 
Joshua and Aaron Shirinian

Un coup de dés n’abolira jamais le hasard
Stéphane Mallarmé

For most, 
memory lasts
but three generations
and grandson
The next will likely never know
her grandfather’s father 

Stories of him will haunt
much will remain unknown
fragments and shadowy descriptions
of a life almost lost but for rumour
For the lucky ones a faded photo
in the end family history built on supposition

I never knew my grandfather
My father hardly knew his father
In 1915 before the massacres
Ottoman soldiers forced him into a labour battalion
never to return
the absence of fathers became the Armenian curse

My father barely knew his mother
yet the persistent memory
a park in Istanbul in 1921
he is eleven the last time he sees her 
she holds him close and feels
his soft wet cheek against hers
she whispers you’re safe here for now
my son 
I can’t give you a future in this country 
I must leave while I can
perhaps after the war… 
he feels her fear and shudders
she hugs and kisses him and says goodbye
turns in pain and leaves him crying 
in the orphanage

Then the killing began again
Armenian orphans were taken
over the Ionian Sea to the safety of Corfu

Many times he had escaped death
wandering from one column to another 
on the forced march east
How often did he cry for his mother 
when he became a father
How often
            she leaves him crying in the orphanage

In 1965 in our living room in Toronto
I asked my father if he remembered his father
his face, his voice, his touch
I wanted something to hang on to
He just shook his head
and looked away

There are no pictures of my grandfather
but my father had a memory of him he shared 
which I turned into a story for safe keeping
Can you hear his voice, I asked
In my dream, he said, he speaks but 
I can’t hear him 

My mother had no memory of her parents
She was a baby when they were exiled and killed
for being Armenian
She had no idea how she survived
who saved her and placed her in different orphanages
Family history erased in two generations

My sons knew my parents
and have good memories of them
My four grandsons know me but it’s likely
their sons and daughters will not
But I will leave stories, books, photographs and films 
for them all

Most of us are victims of the three-generation fate
of human memory
Oh, my grandsons, I want to dance at your weddings with your beautiful grandmother
I want to help lift your chairs high in the air
to celebrate your lives
I might be absent but
I will leave you much to remember

May 1, 2021

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