Thursday, October 19, 2023

Raffi Joe Wartanian: Phantom Tongue

The Armenian Poetry Project is proud to share this unpublished poem by the Inaugural Poet Laureate of Glendale, California,  Raffi Wartanian, and his pictures of Խուլավանգ, which is the church in Kharpert that he referenced in the poem.

Phantom Tongue
by Raffi Joe Wartanian

Somewhere in the world 
my history is erased
my name is changed

Րաֆֆի Վարդանեան 
Րաֆֆի Վարդանեան 
Raffi Vartanian 
Rayfee Wartaynyin

Like the tan on your wart
Stylized melanoma
Signifying the end

Or Wartanian
A song of war
Death, destruction, murder
Nothing I stand for
Mixed into the moniker 

Not here: Vartanian
Warrior sons and daughters 
Defiantly defending a people
Only to have their nom de guerre lathered
Like suds swirling down the drain
Of the car wash on Jackson Street
Under an American sun baking flesh white
Calls for change, or at least a discount, stifled by the heat

Somewhere in the world 
my ancestor’s creations are destroyed
          crosstones of a medieval Armenian necropolis on the banks of the Araxes River reduced to rubble
a stone church, Խուլավանգ, in the golden wheat fields of Kharpert, on its crumbling column defiled with a spray-painted swastika
homes in Hajin, Adana, Zara, and Kumkapi
 never to be known
only to be evoked
during visits, with maps, in verse
their names are ghosts who saunter in meadows of the amnesia I recall
so that sometime in the future
I can sit down with my boy
look him in the eye
and have “the talk”

Will the news destroy his innocence 
The day I tell him
That we were, are, will be
Objects of genocide?

How will he come to understand the unfathomable?
A series of moments…by osmosis…
Lighting candles at the church
The old typewriter hanging on the wall
A grainy image of emaciated corpses
Their sunken eyes somehow familiar
Protestors demanding recognition from violent nations we now or once called home

Or will he already know? Was it coded in his bones? 

When will he learn that the imposed tension 
Between erasure and endurance
Is not just a thing of the past
But a choice today
Between internalizing the oppressors’ will, 
And facing the question
Answers illuminating a path
Fraught with the promise of truth’s daggered thorns

Poking holes in our language
“Endangered” like a fading phantom living in my throat
Կոկորդս, Լեզուս
Spoken to my child
Hearing him voice the revenant

On his tongue does she live or die? 
Maybe both. Maybe none of it matters, especially once we’re erased. 
Have we already arrived?
And once we’ve arrived, can we finally begin to return?

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