Peter Balakian

Commemorating Genocide: Home


By Peter Balakian


Driving Route 20 to Syracuse past pastures of cows and falling silos


you feel the desert stillness near the refineries at the Syrian border.


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Walking in fog on Mecox Bay, the long lines of squawking birds on shore.


you’re walking along Flinders Street Station, the flaring yellow stone and walls

of windows where your uncle landed after he fled a Turkish prison.


You walked all day along the Yarra, crossing the sculptural bridges with their

twisting steel,


the hollow sound of the didgeridoo like the flutes of Anatolia.


One road is paved with coins, another with razor blades and ripped condoms.


Walking the boardwalk in January past Atlantic City Hall, the rusted Deco

ticket sign, the waves black into white,

you smell the grilled cevapi in the Bascarsija of Sarajevo,


and that street took you to the Jewish cemetery where the weeds grew over

the slabs and a mausoleum stood intact.

There was a trail of carnelian you followed in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem


and picking up those stones now, you’re walking in the salt marsh on the

potato fields,

the day undercut by the flatness of the sky, the wide view of the Atlantic, the

cold spray.


Your uncle stashed silk and linen, lace and silver in a suitcase on a shp that

docked not far from here; the ship moved in and out of port for years, and

your uncle kept coming


and going, from Melbourne to London to Kolkata and back, never returning to

the Armenian village near the Black Sea.


The topaz ring you passed on in a silver shop in Aleppo appeared on Lexington

off 65th;

the shop owner, a young guy from Ivory Coast, shrugged when you told him you

had seen it


before; the shuffled dust of that street fills your throat and you remember how a

slew of

coins poured out of your pocket like a slinky near the ruined castle now a disco in


Thessaloniki where a young girl was stabbed under the strobe lights—lights that

lit the


sky that was the iridescent eye of a peacock in Larnaca at noon, when you walked

into the


church where Lazarus had come home to die and you forgot that Lazarus died


because the story was in one of your uncle’s books that were wrapped in

newspaper in a suitcase and

stashed under the seat of an old Ford, and when he got to the border


he left the car and walked the rest of the way, and when you pas the apartment

on 116th and Broadway—where your father grew up (though it’s a dorm now) –

that suitcase is buried in a closet under clothes, and when you walk past the

security guard


at the big glass entrance door, you’re walking through wet grass, clouds

clumped on a hillside, a subway station sliding into water.



Reprinted with permission from Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal [] (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015), winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. Balakian is the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University. He is the author of seven books of poems and four prose works, and a frequent contributor to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.

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