Monday, October 23, 2017

#247: Three Poems by Shahé Mankerian

~Selected by Clara Jane Hallar, Assistant Editor for Poetry

~ This poem was previously published in The New Guard Literary Review (2011).

The Mosaic of the Missing

We found the doll’s head
rolled under the chassis
of the charred Mercedes,

then one plastic sandal
on the cracked manhole.
Her mother fell

on the sidewalk, staring
at the feet of the crowd
that circled the bomb crater

like crows. They found
her braided pigtail twisted
around the telephone wire.

We heard the choked whisper
of the mother get louder.
“Ya, Souraia, stay home

and dress your doll.
We’ll have the damn okra
without bread.” We mistook

shards of glass for fingernails.
The three o’clock chimes
of the clock tower muffled

the siren of the ambulance.
The corner grocer needed
help behind the counter,

but his son was busy sifting
through bones and limbs
as if searching for souvenirs. 


~ This poem was previously published in Arts & Letters (2012)

The Last Mosque

When we heard the planes
approach from the distance,
Avo yelled in Armenian,
“You guys, come out. The planes—”

He couldn’t finish his sentence.
We heard the first bomb
explode near the bridge.
I slid behind a curtain

that smelled of mildew and urine.
I didn’t want to come out
The stained windows rattled.
During hide-and-seek,

they always targeted me first
I didn’t want to be found.
 “Come out!” Avo yelled,
“I’m not playing anymore.”

No one moved. In this
abandoned house of worship
all five of us found a corner.
Allah will protect us, I thought.

Bombs won’t destroy a minaret.
Avo kept begging, “Guys,
come out, please.
It’s not funny anymore.”

No one moved. The explosions
set off sirens and car alarms.
Allah is with us.
Allah is with us,

The mosque was our hiding place
even though I was a good
Christian boy. The final explosion
silenced everything—even Avo’s voice.  


~ This poem was previously published in Arts & Letters (2012)

Now that I was taller, I noticed
rags soaking in the plastic washtub.                                                                        

I wanted to finish peeing,
because Mother needed to know

that someone was bleeding in the house.
I grabbed one from the edge

and walk into the hallway.
The pink droplets stained Mother’s

polished granite. In the kitchen, 
Mrs. Ibrahim’s soft report

about the ceasefire and the children 
coming home, consoled Mother.

“Inshallah,” she said and remembered
a brother still missing in the village

of Zeytoun. Mother rinsed her hands
after slicing pickled green tomatoes.

I didn’t want to interrupt, but the smell
of vinegar and the bloody terrycloth

forced me to clear my throat. “I found
this in the bathroom,” I told Mother,

“I think someone’s wounded in this house.”



I left Beirut in 1979, but Beirut never left me. Heavy bombardments and the turmoil of Civil War forced us out of the country. We barely bid our goodbyes and boarded a rickety airplane. Overnight, we found ourselves boiling in the melting pot of Los Angeles. The humdrum freeways and the manicured hamburger joints replaced the Lebanese checkpoints and the bonfire of roadside trash. I preferred the war over the bore of Southern California. As a boy in Beirut, I had the weapon to write in Armenian. In LA, I was disarmed and forced to communicate in the English language. Nothing made sense. So, I wrote utilizing what was given to me. I wrote through the cobwebbed museums of my mind. I wrote about what I knew. I wrote about my home.



Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and the co-director of the L.A. Writing Project. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center's BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation in arts education. In 2016, Mankerian’s poem was a finalist at the Gotham Writers 91-Word Memoir Contest, and the Altadena Poetry Review nominated him for the Pushcart Prize. His manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize.

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