From “Unpeopled Language”

July 13, 2020

Krikor Beledian is widely regarded as the most important poet writing in Western Armenian. A prolific novelist, essayist, and literary critic, he is the author of more than 30 volumes that have been published in the Middle East, Europe, Armenia, and the United States. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, and a long-time resident of Paris, for the last half-century Beledian has chosen to write almost exclusively in Western Armenian, a UN-designated endangered language.


In its 13 parts, “Unpeopled Language” makes up the final section of Beledian’s magnum opus, Mantras (Yerevan, 2010). Throughout the volume, Beledian recasts the mantra as a disruptive tool against what he calls in the preface “the game of expression,” in order to create a “work without contours, held in a ghostly state.” Dire in its subject matter, skeletal in its austerity, and tormented by participating in the very game it decries, “Unpeopled Language” is a groundbreaking work — a ceremony of mourning, suspicious of resurrection, which transforms and expands not only Western Armenian but also English, its language of passage.


¤


1.


we ate salt

sand

then nettles of black snow


on the mountains

now

piercing cold, the ache of extinction


with shriveled

hands

         stuttering

                        the same relentless

denied

witness

to nothing


2.


water

         grew to a throat of fire

the April scent of a scorched corpse

and here light tatters

a face freed of skin

                            dispersion of tin

my breath I gave to the scrapped poem


3.


deep in your eyes

keep

the invisible


it comes

             with the same light every year

                                                           every day


fire ignited by darkness

a beam

facing you into your retina


no ear no fist

no mourning

no rage and lament

nor the whisper of a prophet’s breath

                                                       nothing


the one

who comes with such ceremony

                                     you wrap yourself around every moment

                                     you are warmed by the dead’s breath

                                     which tells you a story and leaves you bereft

soars

to a stutter


there

        neither forward nor back

                                     a blank, caustic sky

                                     which redeems gods only

leans over you, bows down

with a dagger’s whoosh

its shine blinding ash


the one who comes

                              at each throb

with the same denied utterance

the discord from rafters of bodies

holds unresolved

                          at the apex

                                            of your muted voice

the sun rounds back toward roads of carnage


what remained unnamed revolves around you

what was lost

                     heaves here now

                                               the final emptiness

your parched tongue catches fire in your mouth

o you asleep everywhere, prisoner to extinction


¤


Translated by Taline VoskeritchianChristopher Millis