I lived near the ruins of All Saviors
Church. If this were an altar for the dead,
worshiped since 3000 BC, martyr’s
ancestors, then I would have prayed and fed
them as I once fed the dead of Ani’s
ruins, across the border, a different
city of ghosts. But it is not. What frees
all these dead from Arcadia’s ancient
curse? They entered into me, sick larvae
in a ripe fruit, and now I can’t leave it
alone. If I could call on some unknown
fury to heal this I would. But fury
and loss is what binds these cast-off spirits;
and now, like them, I can’t leave this alone.
If metaphors are the engine that drives a poem then the problem with writing about a city that 98% of the free world has never heard of is, like trying to make sense of out-of-date pop cultural references, 98% of the free world won’t get what you’re trying to say. The metaphor, in other words, fails. I’m trying to avoid that here, but I realize that if I need to write several paragraphs in my notes explaining what each reference I use means then … perhaps I need to rethink how I can “talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.” (thank you, Living Color).
So, as a quick reference guide, here goes:
The poem is set in the earthquake-devastated city of Gyumri, Armenia; a part of the world that archaeologists have determined has been continually inhabited since 3000 BC. All Saviors Church was a ruined church down the street from where I once lived. Ani is an abandoned, ancient Armenian city just across the border between Armenia and Turkey. As a metaphor, Arcadia usually refers to the idea of an unspoiled, utopian wilderness; sort of like what your hippie parents (or grandparents) might talk about when someone mentions California in the 1960s. Needless to say, the 1960s have never been “all that,” in much the same way that modern-day Turkey has never been the cradle of anyone’s crescent civilization.
The photo I use here was taken by Katie Aune.