I was twenty-six when my neighbor sold
me his daughter. She was twelve, he explained,
and if I didn’t pay drams, dollars or gold
for her, the brothel in town would. He feigned
sorrow at such an act, though my neighbor
had been happily drunk the day before.
I was an oddity: a foreigner
living alone. I despise the word whore.
Pimps are poltroon dogs. But at twenty-six
I was easily confused; too frightened
that I would become the sort that inflicts
hell on a girl by saying no. Orphaned
for a month worth of cheap vodka, I paid
$82 dollars for her. All that night
we cried, sitting in my one-room hut; prayed
that there was some quick answer to make right
things that are neither. I could barely speak
her odd, harsh language. Nar knew no English.
She owned one dress, but no shoes. All that week
I went clothes hunting; hoping to furnish
for her at least underwear. But no one
sold such things at the market. Malnourished
and lice-ridden I shaved her. Her fallen
mane writhed upon the floor. Nar’s small, anguished
face looked foreign like me without her hair.
All that week she did not speak; lay in bed
and cried and cried. All that week my despair
deepened too. It was as if we had known
there was no easy out. I bathed her clean
and fed her full of lavash, khorovadz
and tahn. Even so, I felt obscene,
queasy, with my stomach tied up in knots.
Nar will visit me sometimes. It took me ten
years to quit blaming myself. I never
have stopped blaming myself. Again, again,
again; the whole sick night, like a fever,
returns. Sweating and shitting and throwing
up all I gave her, Nar grew weaker, day
by day. I had no medicine, nothing
to ease her pain. Neighbors all stayed away;
even the bastard who had sold my Nar,
my lost Tsovinar, to me. Each visit
of hers is bitter-sweet. She travels far
for a boy who went mad; burnt down his hut,
got sent home in shame. I’ve never forgave
myself for leaving my Nar in her grave.
The name Tsovinar (Ծովինար) is very ancient and very sacred. It was given to one of the pre-Christian deities in the Armenian pantheon. Tsovinar, or Nar, is the goddess of water, sea, and rain. A fire creature, she forces the rain and hail to fall from the heavens with her fury. Her name translates as “Nar on the sea.”
The Armenian monetary unit is called the dram. I also use several words in the poem which are the names of various Armenian dishes. Lavash (la’vash), bread of the gods, is soft and flat and when made by hand is rolled out and slapped against the walls of a clay oven. Khorovatz (xorovatz) is the Armenian word for barbeque and is often served using chunks of grilled meat rolled up in lavash. I found it similar to the Middle Eastern shawarma. Finally, Tahn (t’an) is a sour milk soup prepared by diluting yogurt with water. Often in Gyumri cucumber and dill were added.