Sep 082013

Muse, you have bitten through my fool’s-finger.
Maned like a lioness you held it
In your white teeth most lovingly
And I stared hack, dauntless and fiery-eyed,
Challenging you to maim me for my pride.

See me a fulvous hero of nine fingers,
Sufficient grasp for bow and arrow.
My beard bristles in exultation:
Let all Nemea look and understand
Why you have set your mark on this right hand.

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Sep 062013

Peace, the wild valley streaked with torrents,
A hoopoe perched on the warm rock. Then why
This tremor of the straw between my fingers?

What should I fear? Have I not testimony
In her own hand, signed with her own name
That my love fell as lightning on her heart?

These questions, bird, are not rhetorical.
Watch how the straw twitches and leaps
As though the earth quaked at a distance.

Requited love; but better unrequited
If this chance instrument gives warning
Of cataclysmic anguish far away.

Were she at ease, warmed by the thought of me,
Would not my hand stay steady as this rock?
Have I undone her by my vehemence?

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Jul 042013

There are, however, goods of a very different kind – gods who are quick and obliging, waiter-gods, “What can I do for you?” gods. In no time at all they create worlds to order, according to the fantasies in some bureaucratic decree or a resolution from some ministry. Their world is inhabited by paper ghosts, by painted figures of cardboard and wax. In is a world of veneers, of tin and papier-mâché. These soap-bubble worlds are always full of harmony and light; they are worlds that have a clear purpose, where everything seems reasonable. But in whose likeness – we must ask – have they been created?

The worlds that the gods of pen, brush, piano keys, and violin strings create in their own image and likeness – these worlds may be full of imperfections and folly. They may be half-baked, twisted, distorted, confused, dislocated, wretched, and even ridiculous. They may be imbued with the charm of the primitive and naive, with a comic profundity, with the pathos of a child’s toy, with a creator’s vain yet engaging admiration of the subtlety and beauty of his own creations, with the blindness of suffering, with senseless hope. Sometimes we find the tedious monotony of a single color, sometimes an absurd and chaotic motley.

But there is, surprisingly, more true realism in the craziest picture of the most abstract subjectivist, in the silliest concoction of lines, dots, and spots, than in all the harmonious worlds commissioned by bureaucrats. A strange, silly, crazy picture is, after all, a true expression of at least one living human soul. But whose living soul can we sense in this harmonious, officially sanctioned world so full of apparently naturalistic detail, so dense with ripe ears of wheat and fine forests of oak? Nobody’s – there is no soul in a government office. A government office is not alive.

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Jul 032013

How mighty, how terrible, and how kind is the power of habit! People can get used to anything – the seas, the southern stars, love, a bunk in a prison, the barbed wire of the camps.

What an abyss lies between the first night of passion and a long, grinding argument about how best to bring up the children! How little there is in common between a first wonderful encounter with the sea and trudging along the shore in the stifling midday heat to buy something from the souvenir kiosk! How terrible the despair of a man who has just lost his freedom! And then there he is, lying on his bunk and yawning as he wonders what will be in today’s prison gruel: pearl barley or pickled cabbage? What creates this abyss is the power of habit. Dull as it seems, it is as powerful as dynamite it can destroy anything. Passion, hatred, grief, pain  – habit can destroy them all.

Nothing can withstand it.

– from An Armenian Sketchbook

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