Ode to My Daughter’s Other Half

Mama, can you please tell me
Some stories about Armenia?
My daughter asks
No doubt perplexed
As always
By all she knows of Jamaica
Having traveled to the island
Thrice
Swum in her waters
Climbed her hills
Heard her songs
Her father’s tongue
Tasted the goat and mango
Fish and hard dough
Oxtail and sugar cane
Since birth
(Albeit on the island of Manhattan)
And how little she still knows
Or even senses
Of her other half
Her mother’s land of birth
Armenia

I want to say
Armenia is mountains
Everywhere
Many made of rocks
And many shrouded in the thickest green
She is lavash baking in tandoor ovens
Carved into the Earth’s pit
She’s eggplants, lamb, and ripe tomatoes
Roasting on an open fire
She’s ice cold water
Gushing forth from fountains
Sprinkled everywhere you go

I want to say
Armenia is endless fields of flowers
Seas of poppies
Stretching red into the horizon
Where you will no doubt see
It seems from anywhere you stand
Mount Ararat
In all her majesty and glory
You’ll hear the stories that she tells
Of Noah’s Ark
Of refugees
Of death
And pilgrimage
Of borders drawn and redrawn
With our people’s blood
Until the mountain found herself
On the other side
No longer ours on maps and globes
But still and always
In our memories and souls
Mount Ararat of Great Armenia

I want to tell my girl about
The women, men, and children
In the bazaars and villages
About Armenia’s writers, artists
Carpenters, and thinkers
Her poetry, her songs and wisdoms
Centuries old
Her many churches
Built over a thousand years ago
Way up atop majestic mountains
Which small cars
Packed with more passengers than fit on buses
Climb, rattling
Through treacherously winding roads
Up to these churches
That carry still
The scent of ancient prayers

I want to say to her
Armenia is where too many families
Still live in shacks
Meant to be temporary homes
When the earthquake leveled villages and cities
Soon to be thirty years ago
Today, they are still there
These families
In now crumbling homes
This time because of greed and an indifference
More unforgivable
Far more
Than the shaking of the Earth
That warm winter day
Almost three decades ago

I want to tell her about
The lethal corruption
The broken promises of independence
The vile incompetence
The futile expectations of a people
So hungry
Thirsty
So in need
Ruled by a government that
Steals and threatens
Razes landmarks and destroys the arts
While the people of the land
Victims of centuries of subjugation
Suffer
Only suffer
Always suffer, it seems

I want to tell her
About my grandmother
My daughter’s namesake
Alma
How she carried the soul of Armenia
In her eyes
Her hands
That smile that never quite let go of pain
Her touch
(It could heal anything)

I want to tell her about
My grandfather
Who was three years old
When the enemy came and took
His father
His home
His friends
His village
His peace, forever
When the slaughter drove him
On his mother’s back
Into the desert
Across lakes and streams
Through forests
Up and down hills and mountains
In exile
On a pilgrimage
From Van
To Yerevan
Where he sold water on the streets
So eloquently that
Someone passing by
Stopped and proclaimed the little boy an actor
And so he grew up and became
A beloved son of Armenia
Who churned his suffering
Into comedic art and
Gave the gift of laughter
To his people

I want to tell my daughter
About the judgment and the sneers
About being raised without a father
In a place where there was no greater sin
Where my mother wore a wedding band
And still they said that she’d been left
Alone to raise her bastard child

I want to tell her of
The protests and the hunger strikes
The calls for freedom
The many freedom songs we sang
In classrooms and in squares
While marching down Lenin Avenue
Which we renamed Mashtots
To claim and honor our ancient pride
Our glorious place in history

I want to tell her stories of
The fighting at the borders
The boys we lost
The blood and tears we shed
Of martial law
Of living under others’ laws
Of being forced to speak another’s language
Of being stopped at military checkpoints
As we walked to school and later home
Each morning and every afternoon
To the mocking lilt of Russian soldiers
Pompously seated atop precarious tanks
(Some were too young to be called men)
Our grandmothers carried food
To those who weren’t unkind
Who didn’t whistle, prod, and sneer

I want to tell my girl about
The beauty of this land
The generosity
The warmth
The kindness
And resilience of her children
The many stories of
Their valor and humility
Their longing and compassion
Their melancholy, honorable ways

I want to tell her
How I once longed for this land
That I no longer do
And that the pain of this is lodged
In the place within
Where memories of my birth land reside
(Albeit fading year after year)
How Armenia has betrayed so many of her children
Letting us go
When we would have rather stayed
How she has condemned me
For mothering my brown children
Loving a man who doesn’t carry
In his skin and blood
The suffering and stories of our people
(But then I must confess
My own betrayals
For, what excuse could one conjure
For not returning to
The land that birthed her?)

I realize that
Some of these stories
I have already told
Many times
Albeit maybe not enough
And some aren’t yet ripe
Either for me to tell
Or for my little girl to hear

I want to tell my daughter
Something
Must tell her
Everything
As I know
From all the things I’ve never learned
About my own beginnings

But in this moment
I am weary and wry
And so, for now, I only say
Armenia is beautiful, Imani
You will discover her yourself
Someday
(And hopefully
To her
She will be gentle)

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