Arthur Kayzakian

The Stain on the Wall: Arthur Kayzakian’s the book of redacted paintings


With his “The best translation of/darkness is a victory flag,” Arthur Kayzakian divests the victory flag of its connotations of glory and joy and makes the book of redacted paintings (Black Lawrence Press, 2023) an indictment of all displacements, all erasures and all wars. The persona in the poems assembled in the slim volume is trying to write his way through to his homeland. With images that reach deep into the consciousness, Kayzakian awakens the reader to the horrors of an “invasion” that took the persona’s whole world away from him. The exiled son’s yearning “to get back to my world,” yet failure to reclaim what he has lost, underscores the enormity of the crime committed against him. His “Dear Reader,/Today I haven’t thought about killing myself” conveys his despondency about the reality he now has to exist in.

It is through the search for a missing painting that the poems explore this “upside-down world.” All that the search brings to light, however, is that the portrait, “My Father Under the Stars, 1979,“obviously, of my father” standing by a redwood, “cannot be recovered.” After numerous letters back and forth with The Art Restoration Center and the FBI, the son is courteously asked to “take your endeavors elsewhere.” Indeed, because of the “unusual request for a painting redacted from reality,” The Art Center takes “the liberty to include our Trauma, Loss and Therapy Department for further counseling” in their response to his quest. The sarcastic tone of the persona’s “This painting does not exist, but in some version of this story, it was stolen in winter, the season my father was late from the war,” cannot be missed. In “Stain on the Wall,” a poem that can be said to encapsulate his vision, Kayzakian writes:

when potential buyers

arrive touring the house


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they stop at the wall

and ask about the stain

I apologize and assure them

it is not blood


that the absence of artwork is a

casualty of migration


I say this with a smile

that bears


the blueprint of my father

hanging on the wall inside me


The father fled Iran during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which the images of “soldiers in green uniforms,” “green oil tanks,” the “caskets and rifles” the father made “for men who unbuttoned their graycoats/sat on barstools ordering drink after drink,” insensitive to the horrors of war, all draw on:


one day the men in graycoats

knocked on my father’s door

and asked him to kneel before the empire


The separation is complete, the verdict irreversible. Nonetheless, the past remains very real for the persona. It is the “Home . . . I carry in my blood,” he sings in “Diaspora.” He apologizes to the reader “in advance/since I will ask you to see things that do not exist.” Stubbornly clinging to “a world that could have been,” especially in an age where myths are constantly reforged and identities reinvented, further underscores the persona’s sense of alienation.

Tormented by his loss, plagued with hopelessness, and suicidal, the son seeks therapy. However, no therapy can help with “the ritual of paying bills” — “I’m late on my water and power bill—” and “the buildings collapsing in your chest.” To “end it all./The mortgage, the deadlines, the apologies . . . to escape life to become expunged” feels like the only way out. The persona is destined to die alone, unable to say “i love you,” notwithstanding his acknowledgment of those who helped “me believe in myself . . . showed me a path to healing.” Even “my Higher Power who never led me astray, who saved my life,” invoked in his Dedications, proves inadequate.

One wonders if one who feels betrayed and censored by history can still construct visions. Indeed, throughout the poems the persona apologizes for his anxieties and for “the shame i feel . . . for my failure to locate my country/in my father.” Yet, the courage he has to voice the truth about the madness and the corruption surrounding him, about “the part history leaves out,” to borrow his words, evidences that his creativity goes on. With his stunningly precise images, “as in the sugar of a dying language, the scent of ash and a bashed-in door, as in smoke-rings blown from the mouth of a glorified general. as in river then a slice of jail. of wine stain, the torture of praying. as in history. as in we wait with white men for metal doors to slide open. instead of anger, we have flower petal weight on our shoulders. as in psychedelic. it’s okay we smile. it’s not okay we know . . . ” Kayzakian gives the reader insights into “the contagion of the world’s slow stain,” (italics mine) to borrow a line from Adonais, British Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy on the death of John Keats.


In ”This Halloween,” the persona dresses as a walking painting:

i want to be a stolen painting so the earth could see

the imprint of a wall in the aftermath of hands

i want my canvas to be a thousand mouths

that fall silent when the siren sounds

when i step up to your patio for candy like “trick or treat”

you’ll open the door and manage a smile

you won’t know what else to do

you’ll say and what are you supposed to be this year

 i’ll want to say the leftover dust of a picture frame

which is another way to say kheyanat, betrayal

i’ll want to say the dark shade of a canvas in its leaving

but instead I’ll say “thank you—I am the result of history”


With “I am the result of history,” Kayzakian implicates a whole history we have reduced to wars and to genocides. The gentle, non-threatening, almost pleading, voice of the persona, “Please Ask . . ./what happened to the Armenians?” exposes the anger lurking beneath. “Now our laughter happens, though/we know where hell came from,” writes Kayzakian in “Tehran.” The world remains a hostile place.


Kayzakian serves as the Poetry Chair for the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA). the book of redacted paintings, his debut collection of poems, won him the 2021 inaugural Black Lawrence Immigrant Writing Series award.

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