“A world of grief and pain
~Kobayashi Issa (b. 1763, Japan)
In one hand I am holding a slender, gleaming, reddish-brown branch studded with tightly closed, rose-colored buds. In the other? Pruning shears, to trim down the branch into fuel for next winter’s fires.
M and I are in her village, working together in her backyard. The branch is from one of several treetops piled on the ground, all cut from her apricot trees just two days ago, before yesterday’s new snow. They will not be nesting places for the clever gachaghagner, the magpies, with their darkly iridescent bodies and cloud-dipped wings. The ruddy branches are not destined to be duduks. Their buds will not transform into the soft, sweet taste of summer that always welcomes me home, wherever it grows.
Today, after the war and complex preparations to return to Hayasdan, in the grief over postponing the longed-for sight and scent of native blossom and fruit, I know the deep cuts will be a path to new life in a year or two. Meanwhile, the roots stay whole.
This brings comfort about the trees, but what of our people? What of Artsakh? And anti-Asian violence in the US? Where and how can we dwell in confusing borders of identities shaped by nation-states and human hate? Chem kider…I don’t know…
After days of wintry grey, today’s midday rays of gold are reaching down through the clouds, helping our gloved hands work a little faster and our hearts beat a little gladder, in spite of everything. The peaks of the snow-covered mountains all around us reveal their profiles, prominent against the shock of blue sky. Here in the high, windy valley, the new snow is already melting.
An hour after sunset, I am cupping an almost too-hot bowl of vospov abour in my hands, humbled to share a meal with M as I take in something she’s just told me, bringing a swirl of Artsakh-centered feelings and thoughts which will not abate. Nor should they.
Last night, ’twas a simple pleasure to make a big pot of Armenian lentil soup, and tonight, to take the risk of adding in a little lemon juice and black pepper this second time ’round. Generally, I would add a copious quantity of both, plus kimyon and hot peppers. But lately, my eating anything beyond a plain potato or piece of lavash is a minor miracle, as is working in the garden.
For some days, I’d been overwhelmed anew by stories of war, starvation and other atrocities against us, historic and current, some facilitated by internal oligarchs. Body-based trauma healing practices coaxed waves of nausea to soften, aided by cups of homegrown mint tea made with love and a bit of honey, just like when I was a child. The tea’s mostly a comfort with a dash of disquiet, tugging at memories intertwined with physical and psychological abuse, rooted in intergenerational trauma. How many of us live with recurring, internalized tangles of wounding and healing? Who gets to rest? To feel? To heal?
Tonight, as I was heating our soup and prepping my tea in M’s kitchen, she asked me, “Do you know where the honey comes from?” My heart thudded, somehow knowing what she was going to say next. “It’s from Artsakh…from one of the territories we have lost.”
She tells me a friend and his bees had made the pure, golden meghr from Artsakh forest and mountain flowers. He and the bees are safe, having found refuge in another village without loss of life or limb. But the honey bringing me back to health will be no more, like the thousands of Armenian lives and labors stolen, shattering bodies and psyches, again.
I decide not to take any more of the precious meghr for myself, but M insists. My eyes meet hers, holding what words cannot. We are remembering the news from this afternoon.
Later, much later, we are singing, “Ամպի տակից ջուր է գալիս…”
I am standing in the backyard alone and not alone, holding a branch of apricot tree in one hand, pruning shears in the other, as the sun crawls closer to its daily destiny. A voice reminds me to pause, to greet all the trees, dogs, birds, rocks and new grasses around me. In the midst of this indigenous reverie, M bursts out of the house with news. “He is coming home!”
I gasp, not knowing what state he is in, just that he, her dear friend’s grandson, is no longer in the clutches of those who hate us. He had been missing since the war, for more than four months.
Joy and relief fill our spirits and the very air itself, startling the birds. As she turns to head back inside, I look up at the clouds for a long while and eventually remember the branch still in my hand. Slowly, my fingers caress the delicate, silvery ornaments formed in the bark while it could still grow. The beauty is a portal. I put down the pruning shears and let the grief come, the branch now the color of dried blood. What must his family, so many families and POWs, still be experiencing in the not-knowing?
When and how will we know peace? What are we struggling for?
Kneeling, I am praying he will return safe and sound
that his family—all families—will be reunited
that every soldier, parent, widow and child
can receive and give love and care in safety
that our people can co-exist through all that connects us
that healing justice and right relations will flow
like the waters newly streaming down the mountains
that we will all know the feeling of home
As I rise, a smile escapes my foolish heart and makes its way to my lips, temporarily unmasked. The clever gachaghagner are still here, the apricot trees will bloom again one day, and Easter is coming.