(from the recent collection History of Forgetfulness)
Like Eliot’s Prufrock
Like a slab of meat etherized upon a table,
she felt obligated to clean her fiancé. A nurse
pulled the curtain and left her alone with a limp
rag in a bedpan full of warm, lathery water.
From the unfurnished apartment to the ambulance,
she used her unfitted wedding gown to wrap
his punctured belly with shrapnel shells.
The doctors cut the dress like a gauze. She dabbed
his foaming mouth with the veil. They didn’t have
a balcony anymore. Torn pages from his dissertation
covered a pool of blood. Soap residue stained
his torso, the floor tiles, his diaphragm.
In a classroom full of mosquitoes,
I envisioned America with statues
of Washington at the entrance of grand
bazaars, bathhouses, and hookah lounges.
We stared at the map many times,
but no one explained the peculiarities
of the landscape. I wondered if low
flying jets rattled windows and blew
crumpled newspapers on makeshift
backgammon boards. Did idle men snap
at their wives and curse Israel for lack
of foot traffic? I knew Lebanon trumped
Delaware in size, but who fed the skeletal
cat by the mosque? Where did they bury
the child, while jumping rope,
she overlooked a landmine?
Where the Trees Have No Name
No one dared to climb the skeletal tree
in the dead-end alley. Its trunk without
branches surrendered to bullet holes.
The drunk sniper spotted wayward
children sprouting from bowing boughs.
That’s how Coconut Koko died.
He climbed the crying tree by Cinema
Arax because he wanted to touch the halo
on Miss Marilyn Monroe. Love forced
hefty hooligans to take miscalculated
risks in Beirut. We heard the crack first.
Then the snap. Both the branch and Koko fell
instantly as if struck by lightning. The priest
warned us, “The sniper shoots at drooping
limbs and drifting children like lambs.”
Shahé Mankerian serves as the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and the director of mentorship at the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA). He co-directed the Los Angeles Writing Project 2008-2018. He is also the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation in arts education. His debut poetry collection, History of Forgetfulness, was published by Fly on the Wall Press, on October 22, 2021. The manuscript has been a finalist at the Bibby First Book Competition, the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize.