FRESNO INDIAN

I lived underground during the 1950’s
in the wake of my father’s habitual
and unknown rage to weave himself
through the stagnant air creating an alphabet
of icicles from the eave of his wooden tongue–
He struggled in a web of private conversations
and kept us silent with threats and abandonment–
orphaned to invisibility where dreams survived
on the urgency of boredom

…..And being 10 years old I would slip
like a lizard into a pool of shadows
finding a pathway from his dark window
down the yellowy fragrance of a lemon tree
studded with thorns
and into my grandmother’s backyard garden
where imaginary winds dusted with sunlight
lingered beneath a veil of star-faced jasmine–
I listened to the growing of things
whose boundaries opened into wilderness
where the city stopped and farmland
spilled like ink over the landscape for miles
Screen doors swung easy like clockwork
in a trusting wind which seemed strange
on a planet where nightly
blue-collared fathers knee-deep in backyards
dug bomb-shelters after work and on weekends
with nightmare delusions of reddened skies
swallowed by mushroomed clouds
Families struggled sinking
silently into a lifetime of expectations
Their other selves left to keep appearances
a mirage of green lawns and a perfect death
No one really slept!
Buried up to their necks in schedules and telephones
watching children disappear into a blank margin
of no return …….across an outfield of timeless summers
forged with long hours and hunched backs
looking for work and the American grail
even on Sundays before dinners in copper-tinted rooms
tanned by the oily seasoning of garlic and lamb

where windows hung like portraits of hunger from far away lands
at 13 I heard schoolmates point in slow motion
at the Armenian in me and the invisibility that was visible
in a Kingdom where dreams survive on long tables of diplomacy
and reality speaks from the splintered lips of baseball bats
threatening the heroes of this poem
to bleach their dark skins white
…They called Armenians “Fresno Indians”
with our hollowed eyes and and eagle-beaked noses
but my grandmother said
“They called us starving black Armenians….first”
Those whose promises
promised nothing
in a land that genocided its natives
with no reservation
We were no strangers to genocide
fugitives of dust
we blurred into borders and brown-faced hills
to wait like grass for winter’s first rain
We survived the delirium of previous lives
as if some god had forgotten us
and ordered our children to bleed
our earth to be bitten and bled
We embraced life without a tear
our skins emerging from an undergrowth of syllables
unfolding from the simple grace all miracles grow

……..The ranches I knew as a boy have turned to salt
and winter like my grandmother’s unbunned white hair
haunts the ruins of broken mirrors
in empty stations looking for the river back to eden
praying for a melody on the green side of childhood . . . .
She assumes what is necessary for the moment
to shape what remains after death
having liveda life on the edge
now sits at an empty table
Her hands drink a headful of bad dreams
and everything that she was before
commands the wind
to sing in Armenian!