“These pieces were written in the aftermath of the U.S. Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide.  They also evolve out of personal circumstance: moving to a multicultural community and thus re-thinking the U.S. as a lost homeland.  I wrote them both as prose poems, but as I was revising “Gone Native”, I realized there were some syllabic patterns happening, which I decided to enhance with line breaks.”
A hundred and six houses

They say Queens is the most diverse place on the planet, diverse as the intellectual code word for too many different types of dark eyed people, immigrants from little known countries, others who lack the vocabulary of newspaper hacks in Manhattan who unquestioningly quote the president before smashing another part of the world.

Our super from Ireland told us the Indians upstairs won’t let the exterminator inside because of their religion.  “Oh, they don’t like the chemicals,” I said, thinking of Ayurveda.  “No,” he brogued.  “They believe in reincarnation, you know, that you’re killing one of their ancestors.” Then he stomped an imaginary roach with his super boot.

Spotting the guitar in the corner, he asked who the musician was, looking suspiciously at my boyfriend, the alien. “Where are you from?” The most homogenous place on the planet, where everyone is hairy and eats national dishes.   Asked if he were from the U.K., the super was offended, as if he weren’t oblivious to other people’s enemies.

This morning, the nicest exterminator in the world knocked on the door, a black man in a hooded sweatshirt and Yankees cap.  “Who’s the artist?” he cheerfully asked the paintings on the wall as he sprayed poison into the floor.  “I used to be,” I told him.  “Huh?” he asked.  “You don’t ever lose something like that, do you?”  He told us the lady who lived here before was a palm reader.

“She was channeling spirits?” I asked, thinking of the scary movies we have been watching from Asia, all the souls in distress enacting justice. In Armenia I was mistaken for Indian, for the shape of my face and my foreignness.  The exterminator shrugged his shoulders, “If you believe in that kind of stuff,” and he walked away, carrying his silver urn from another era, to erase some more of the meek.

You don’t ever lose that: once an artist always an artist, once an ancestor, always an ancestor, once a president, always a president, once an immigrant, always an immigrant.  There is no change, no dialogue, no peace, a Turkish girl wrote to me in an email, endless war and violence, an Armenian girl wrote to me in an email, I fear we will all be wiped out.  All of us, every diverse one.

Gone Native

She’s a maiden.  Her chin is high and proud, hands
by her sides, breasts bare, and on top of her head
a single feather which broke off
at some point; my aunt the artist,
now gone, glued it back on.
Among the Armenian
landscapes painted from photographs, I plucked
her, a kitschy figurine, abhorrent
yet curious like ceramic colored-boy
jockeys planted on suburban lawns;
a romantic caricature, gold in hue,
bravely mourning my tiny living room as
desecrated homeland.

The other aunties give money
to the Indians every year and
then receive free calendars, twelve
painted images of braves and chiefs,
forced on assimilated nieces and nephews
to mark the passing of time, months departed,
memories disintegrating.

Immigrant or native, when
we want to forget the past, we
get irritated and become
something else.  But an Indian can
shatter this fake dream, like
the chief in One Flew Over
the Cuckoo’s Nest, who smothers
the famous actor lobotomized for
breaking the rules.

The reminder to white people that
“the only true Americans are Native Americans,”
has become a cliché.  It wasn’t like this
when I was young; everyone learned about
Manifest Destiny, watched the savage
Indians in the Westerns, and
feared when a paleface
was scalped.

One year for Halloween, I dressed up
like a native, my poncho and braids
suddenly beautiful, logical.
Mom got me a chief’s headdress
and tomahawk.  While he sat
in his armchair in front of the TV,
my father was held captive
by my toy blade hacking
at his neck; mom let out a fake scream
for my benefit.  In me, a little rage,
a little brave, and the three of us
laughed and laughed.

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