Pilgrim

Pilgrimcover1
The cover of the author's upcoming anthology "Pilgrim"

The cover of the author’s upcoming anthology “Pilgrim”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Beginning this week Asbarez is introducing a new regular column authored by Ara Mgrdichian—akm—whose prose, poetry and essays will explore issues related to Armenians, the Armenian community and current realities.

BY ARA MGRDICHIAN

I.
A thousand years somehow blow out clean and pure between here and Tulare, with electro-glide angels barreling past the long ago and soon to be, up the 5 north toward the 99, riding roughshod through old sins and teetering rigs…

II.
High winds that leave no trace, toppling water towers and sucking the heavy, perfect ash right from my glowing cigar tip, scattering burnt offerings, again, at a hundred miles per, right from my dry, chapped lips…

III.
Coughing up old phlegm from loves lost and broken, spitting torn-up treads marking the end of a long skid mark, veering right across the gray concrete…

IV.
Side-swiping oleander bush medians that still divide the four great lanes to the north and south, auxiliary roads taking us to places that we lived without, all along these irrigated, fertile plains…

V.
With poison gnawing the middle-ground all across the Golden State, separating our leavings from our common, hidden fate…

VI.
There’s a tiny splash of light, a blurring glow, dead ahead, in the fast lane, slow, and I stare in fleeting disbelief as I pass over a bright defeat–a yellow sunflower orphan, now burning the sweltering concrete…

(And I know there’s more to come…)

VII.
It’s 7a.m. on a Sunday and I’m wearing a suit and tie, fancy shoes and a drop-point blade… You’d think I was going to die…

VIII.
But, I’m on my way to Visalia for no good reason at all, but I know way down deep that I’m heeding an ancient call…

IX.
The first sign was strong, the second sign comes through, as I see their eyes, their huddled heads high–a sturdy canine crew… Three small, scrappy mutts there on the right shoulder east, waiting for a high-speed break to cross the road at least…

(And, now I know I’ve seen the second sign…)

X.
I see them look and wait, brave with fear and circumspect, ready to ford whatever may come from this deadly place…

XI.
And, by the time I reach K street, near Tulare, I already know the third sign I’m sure to see…

***

So, I count off the cities and towns–Fresno, Yettem, Dinuba, Reedley… I almost say them out loud…

Until I can hear Deegeen Vartanian calling out… “Tsakuhs” and “Lokhum…” Making peanut butter cookies and Choregs, loving us like her own, running the hard Lavash under the faucet and tenderly swaddling the sheets, but still ending up alone in the old Fresno Ararat home…

Baron Abraham making perfect toys and Tavloo sets from native wood, in this foriegn land… In his hands, the lives of every lost friend…

The Melkonian’s house and the great “Aikee,” the big German Shepard, and the joy in my strollered baby brother’s eyes when he was tiny and still alive…

Pancakes with peanut butter and syrup, old country talk with new country looks, while Tehlirian’s remains still shake the earth…

And, now I have to count them off again–just to make sure–those cities and those towns–but they somehow change inside my mouth and become Bitlis, Kharpert, Erzeroum… Sassoun, Moush, and Van…

I see unmarked graves and joyous lives in what’s left of their tearful eyes…

What’s left out here in the old San Joaquin, after 12,000 years and all the great lies…

Somehow Anatolia has turned into these barren Chumash hills…

From one Genocide to the Other…

They came for their land…

…and I’ve come for their blood…

***

XII.
And, then, I know for sure, that the third sign is so true and that sign I know will definitely be you…

As I exit at last and drive on, I can feel the love come shining through… That old, lonely airstrip, those little planes ramped down beneath a sky so blue… Chained right down to the ground to keep them from flying off to you…

XIII.
I can see the snow caps on the Sierra Nevada in the middle of May from the blistering valley floor…

And I know if I’m not careful, you are sure to take much more…

The third sign may be fateful and the third sign may be true…

But the blood of my ancestors will still drown all of you…
Pilgrim is a vignette excerpted from one of three upcoming anthologies of his own original works and photos.

Ara Mgrdichian is a writer, photographer, and counselor who has worked with young people and their families, in and out of the scholastic environment, for more than 20 years. He is a Los Angeles native and matriculated at UCLA (BA) and PLNU (MA and PPS). He was a founding member, writer, and artist for Exile, a bi-lingual, bi-cultural, literary supplement published by Asbarez, and also worked as Assistant Editor for the Asbarez English Edition both before and after Armenian independence. Mgrdichian worked and lived in Armenia, with stints in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic from 1990 – 1993, as well as 2003 – 2004. You may see and hear more at akmi.tv and srcinfo.net, as well as akmimedia.com.

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