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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This poem is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

In Khorkum John Ash

the wounded bird sang in the tree
and the kings were remembered
when the mother wept and the father went away
leaving the red slippers for his son
who had stopped speaking
and the martyrs were remembered and the ancestors
who rode into battle on purple horses
and the bird still sang in the summit of the poplar
as a salt breeze blew in from the lake
where the boats sailed toward the island of the almonds
and the pruning implements writhed
on the blue wall of the house
longing to escape into the orchards
then the trees whispered prophecies
as they have done in Alexander of Macedon's day
and ravens' eggs were painted with the colours of the fields
where the earth crumbled under the horses' hooves
and the father sat in mid-ocean sailing to America
and the prince rode into the heart of the rock
the Raven's Rock the Rock of Van
and said: 'I will not come out
until the world is less wicked
until wheat grains grow as big as rosebuds'
but the world stayed wicked and the rock stayed shut
yet clouds like winged heads still rose above the mountains
and the boats sailed by where now there are none
and the boy found a voice in the wood
he had whittled for his father who was gone
then the scent of apricots covered the fields
and clear water ran in channels beside the streets of Van
below the rock into which the prince had vanished
then the uncle's body was thrown against the door
and the grandmother stepped in the blood
and God was dead for her
but the plough still sang in the fields
and the sun danced like a dervish in the trees
and one year later the son was born
and soon the father departed leaving the red slippers
and boats sailed toward the island of the almonds
where the palace of king Gagik had vanished
and candles burned before the tombs of the ancestors
and the prince said: 'I will not come out
until the world is less wicked
until barley grains are as large as walnuts'
and the earth could not bear the weight of his horse
then a regiment of butchers descended on the villages
then the fire rained down from the rock
then the fire ran through the fields
then the fire erased the images of the martyrs
then the demon sat above the fire in an elegant suit
amusing himself with a French novel
and the people of Shadakh were killed
and the people of Berghri and the people of Harput
then the mother buried everything she possessed
in the garden in Aikezdan
and the son and the mother left the homeland
walking day after day over the hard ground
eating wild herbs and unripe fruit
passing by Masis crossing river Arax
and four years later the mother died
still longing for the home of her ancestors
and the son travelled on to Tiflis to Batum and Balis
sailing to America to the father he did not love
and the scent of the apricots followed him
the taste of the salt and cries of birds above the rock
then in poverty and long weeks of rain
his mother's embroidered apron began to unfold
and wheat grains grew big as rosebuds
then the paintings burned and the dead mother spoke:
'My son what can I do? Colour and contour
Have gone from my face, the light has gone from my eyes,
Scorpions nest in my heart. Child you have wandered
enough.''

This poem is taken from PN Review 107, Volume 22 Number 3, January - February 1996.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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