Hagop Missak Merjian, “Father (19??-1997): Chiromancy”

Daniel Varoujan Award, selected by Fanny Howe
Honorable Mention: Hagop Missak Merjian, “Father (19??-1997): Chiromancy”


Father (19?? – 1997): Chiromancy

          Who would carve words must carve himself,
          first carve himself; and then alas
          finds, too late, that Word is only Hand.
– Aiken: Time in the Rock 42

His hands were the first language I learned.
And in their riven death, the last.

These were hands that might have learned to
Weave Hittite mandalas into Persian kermans,
To carve and curve the tympanies of Turkish brass,
And shake the shakhshakha in incensed ceremonies
Deep in the ocher penetralia of tuffa cathedrals—
Those peasant bull churches—which, for Mandelstam,
Crumble and break…the teeth of your vision.
They would have preserved the secrets of
Curing camel’s flesh, making the basturma
His father made with his fathers before him.
Instead, nations orphaned his lost people.

Possessing only the languages of the East
He came to America, worked like a hamal for
Sixty years, desperate to earn The Dream,
Building his small Rugs and Carpets shop,
(Weaving/Washing) with his own hands,
Until one day the Machine of the Good Life
Locked his hands in its gleaming steel rollers
And drew off his fingers, one by one.

Deep in the nepenthe of strong anodyne,
His hands, or what were his hands, bloated,
(Bandaged white balls like boxers’ mitts),
Hoisted up like a rood splayed on davits,
In the deep tenebra of his delirium he muttered:
This is my punishment for killing those who
Were killing us. This, hairig’s savaged heart.

I will never know if the teeth of the dragon
Were sown in the dark soil of his lost youth.

Nor shall I know if those hands, now gone,
Were doomed to kill or bless.
What I do know is that I still dream of his
Whole and steely hands,
And of their lost caress.


Hagop Missak Merjian
Hagop Missak Merjian has been a teacher all his life and spent years teaching in Cairo, Egypt, and Thessaloniki, Greece. He writes: “I have a large collection of poetry/memoir and hope to enjoin a publisher—soon—for I am old. But not to worry, Aeschilleus was 89 when he wrote some of his most poignant dramas.”