Coming To Terms


There is an invisible chain in the skies
unseen, as pain is unseen
except in the eyes.

The chain settles with the galaxies
of night to buckle the stars
each to each.

They flicker like sacred candles
and reach, but are tied
to order, and held separate by sight.

Like the stars, you and I are tied togeth
by dreams, not by want.
Always together, always separate
on the same course, but orbits apart.


Again under my window, a wandering singer
sings a sad song I've heard long ago;
sings as if I wrote that song for the singer;
sings as if I wept that song for the singer;
sings as if I walk down the street with yearning,
singing the song and only to you.


This Nayirian soul of mine
stands like an alien apart
with its sadness and chain
of old complaints.

Even if you decipher our alphabet
and read our lettered stones,
our labor and ancient pain
would stay unexplained.

The towers that mourn
my dying country do not tell
all, nor move you with their toll.
To you they are bells.

And here at this feast we laugh
together, but stay apart.
You never know the Armenian wine
we drink is the blood from our heart.


I love your dark and wicked eyes, as deep
as the mysterious evening is deep, and dark
as the spell that dusk casts. I love the vast
seascape of your eyes where sin
hesitates like twilight before flickering past
where luck and chance have been.
I love your eyes, their drunken golden haze,
eyes that magnetize the lost like wordless beams
and torture the soul with their pitiless
caress. I love their dark and mysterious depths.


My mother's hands were tapered slim
like candles that might burst in flame.
My mother's voice was like a balm
soothing each pain, calling each name.

Her holy sense of right and wrong.
Forever calm, her fire-filled eyes.
Her thousand tales, her endless songs.
The sweetest fountain has run dry.

(For Vyaczeslaw Ivanovich)

You praised red roses raised
for Vartavar. And in return
I sang sad singers' songs.
You said: Your country's gardens
are unmatched. Search near and far.
In spite of flinty land, your roses burn.

Vartavar's red rosy wreaths
wherever you turn. Just as the hail
spangles mountains and dale, flames
have scorched our fields and burned
our homes. Look where endless blood
was let. So many bled. No wonder
that our roses blaze so fiery red.

(Excerpt from Ergir Nayiri/

"I love my fatherland, but that kind of love
requires another word." —Lermontov

Homer will tell you
how the wanderer feels:
Laertes' son homesick
for the place that he leaves,

always an alien
with loyalties scat-
tered, crossing sea and mountains
to find every joy flat.

I too have been tempted
by voices, taunts, need,
offers and office
but your name, living seed,

I have kept in a clean heart
to replant, like wheat.

Now consumed with the yearning
only you can cure
I return, my country
for the place to be sure

of hearing the music
I have kept and keep,
our sacred songs, Nayiri,
sweet songs to weep.


When you're sated, weighted down and tired of fate,
you can always turn, turn back again,
to the heart, like yours, that's racked with pain
but where the walls still echo with your name.

When good fortune brightens up your road with light,
and clinging strangers spring up left and right,
someone will be happy but wary of fickle fame,
still hoping that you turn, return again.

But if fate hardens your heart and turns your head
so you cannot feel delight and you forget
what it is to love, someone will mourn your loss,
but can do nothing more. Do not return. You're lost.


My work was light and full of humor.
It was my life that was so hard,
unwieldy, silent, and heavy,
homeless, wandering and dark.

My soul in its bright fever reached
out to a world boundless and deep.
My art was bright; my jovial faith sure.
It was my life that was so bleak.


Earthbound, but soaring,
floating, piercing the blue fog,
you are an angel winged in light.
You are not matter, you are flight
and spirit of the Armenian world.
White, effulgent fires blaze
from your forehead as if with rage,
as you stand vigil, stand guard
over our ruined land and heart.

I have not seen you but you reign,
illuminating all my dreams
with your crown of smoking flame,
Armenia's symbol and unblemished flag,
altar of God's love for man,
resurrection's witness, immaculate, clean.
However humiliated the flesh
you give hope to the Armenian soul.

Luminous vision of pure light,
shining with gleaming snow intact,
you are the refuge and the proof
of the covenant and pact
that our people will endure.
Mist-endowed mystery, rampart
of the sublime force,
promise that the crucified will rise,
refuge of dying man, Ararat,
undying heart of our ashen land.


We are orphans, everyone,
children of the lost,
ground down, motherless, alone
under blackened suns.
We are shoved against our will
onto foreign soils,

calling without voices,
or hope of being heard.
We are praying, but to whom?
Who will hear us, who will come?
Who will take us home?


Am I the last singer, then,
my country's last poet?
Is this death or sleep
enveloping you, bright Nayiri?

Wherever I walk on this earth
I dream of your luminescent
countryside, and your language
that rings like prayer.

Rings always, deep and clear.
Burns and pierces.
Are those blazing roses
burning? Or my fiery wounds?

Anxious. Alone. I call you.
Shine on, my dream Nayiri.
Am I your last singer then,
my country's last poet?


I realize now, as everyone does,
you were commonplace, run-of-the-mill.
I was the one forcing flat pictures to life
wishing to see what I willed.

I was the one who filled, out of need,
your small heart and your mind,
endowed your tiny concerns
with what I wanted to find.

I know at last, and alas,
you are like most of your kind.
But how many times I've wished I remained
in the dark about you and blind.

(Walking toward and past me)

Light is failing, night is falling.
House to house the dark comes calling.
A stranger walks toward me, alone,
her face familiar as my own.

As in fairy tales, the fountain dances
beside us, blessing our passing glances.
Her calm gait, her rhythmic stride
continue into what I write.

Fate's gift: this moment occurs,
luminous and without words
like a scene from a romance
but just a small happenstance.


How can I help but fill with love,
my country, my land, split up, cut down?
How can I not feel devotion and rage;
how can I ignore you martyred and caged.

Immortalized by giving up life,
my country, my land, that was crucified.
Like the mother of Christ, witnessing wrong and right,
too much blood lost to be described.

Your soul like incense can perfume the world,
my humble, small land, my unhealed wound.


How can I complain?
How can I weep or moan?
Everyone is plunged into the same pain,
everyone robbed of his home.

In a dark prison without doors
who would hear us pray?
Each pain is exceeded by a neighbor's,
each loss too deep to say.


(Or Reconciliation)

Let us live in the present today
and not be afraid to admit
our wretchedness. Let us not blame fate,
nor dwell on what we regret.

Without pretense, let us acquiesce
to what our dying hearts understand.
We are bereft and orphaned apart;
let us not be ashamed.

Let us forgive each other with love,
not blame. Let us not calculate.
Say we won't covet, say we won't judge
but accept without rancor or pain.

Let us pity and not torment,
reciprocate kindness with kind.
Let us make up for our past mistakes
and respect the brevity of time.


Turn and turn again, carousel.
Your tunes are old familiar tunes.

It is an old familiar story
about the spell a smile can cast
across a lifetime, across pink mists,
a warm smile that can heat the soul.

The words that pledge love end in kisses
with words that praise the sweet, sad world.
Do we use them, knowing we are lying?
Do they use us to be heard?

Spin and spin again, carousel.
I am long familiar with your song.

Once there was a land, distant and golden.
Once a world blessed by the sun.
Once there were illusions, now faded.
Once they shone in glory. Now they're gone.

Is it you or the world that changed
with suffering and sorrow's tears?
Let the dream go. It deceives you
gilding the past and the by-gone years.

Turn and turn again, carousel.
Your path is an old familiar route.

In that far-off world the song
I sang was one we all knew:
"I love you but you don't love me."
How banal and predictable. Now.

"Time beyond reaching," say the verses;
"Waltz me again," says the tune.
Such an old tired story full of
night, a kiss and moon.

Spin again slowly, carousel.
I know your tune.

Do you know the secret they are singing
at the frenzied banquet as they dance?
Do you know the song without end or beginning?
"Yesterday I was, today your turn, tomorrow
someone else will be."

Turn and return, carousel.


The stars flicker coyly beyond the moon's light
over stark fields that blend into dark.
And I'm in the same dream I'm condemned to each night,
recurring to haunt my tired heart.

The stars burning clearer seem to drop through the skies,
turning my thoughts, forcing me to compare.
The endless yearning starts. And everywhere, everywhere
I'm reminded of you, and see your eyes.


You are going, sad and wordless,
I don't know where,
like a morning star fading into blue air.

I am going, alone, aimless,
on the thoroughfare
like abandoned paper blowing unaware.

You are going, hiding from me
tears from a damaged heart.

And I'm knowing, uncomplaining,
this is death's path we start.


As if on a tavern's carousel,
my words float out glibly said;
light of heart, and light of head.
Spin me, wine; you suit me well.

I know how it feels to be bled,
stamped down, robbed of land and home.
But my songs not knowing, go on
as if these were dreams to shed.

(Dream Girl)

You're indifferent; it's no matter
if I live or die.
You don't care. I can't make you.
Others catch your eye.

You pass by and pass me up,
unreached fantasy,
treasure that I cannot buy.
Others think it's free.

You're everyone's but not mine,
favoring store-bought schemes.
What can I do when I'm not
in my dream girl's dreams?


Delicate bright, radiating light,
you shine.
Tawny rays, arms of fire ablaze,
you dazzle.
Gentle as the gold gazelle's,
your eyes
melting everything you touch.
Your smile
an arrow; your frown a dart.
Both sting.
Your love a disaster. Don't look.
Don't turn.
Wicked sun, whomever you warm
you burn.


A new day has dawned bringing world peace
but in my land the sun does not rise.
My country stays in unsheddable night.
— Wake up. Revolt if you are alive.


To forget, to forego, to forbid
every thought, every want, every need.
Not to love, nor look back, just to leave.
Not to feel, just to break with the past.
To forgive, to forget, and to leave.
All alone, not depressed and to see
what's inert, what will hurt, what will not.
Not to wait, not to want, nor desire,
not to feel, not to burn, not to ask,
but acquiesce and accept and to pass.


Circe, siren, queen of the night,
one touch and you changed all my life,
burned down the past with eyes of fire,
goddess of miracles, miracle of light.

Sorcerous as the full moon's rays,
you smiled with pity and with care,
chained my free heart in golden snares,
conqueror with guileless ways.

Your songs dispensed or dispelled hurts.
Your selfless smile and your eyes
were lit with artless sweet surprise.
You had the gift of piquant words.

Violet, bred in an unknown land,
like Artemis, brightening my dark night,
you came like death's soft sting, the light
touch of fate's unrelenting hand.


What is left now,
what stays from this, my life,
unsmiling, and bled dry,
like my betrayed land beyond salvaging?

What is left now for us,
sleepless and desiccated past,
torched down, scorched dry
and like my betrayed land always diminishing?


This spring is profuse with lush flora and greens,
generous with crystalline air.
I want to share it with someone unknown
and praise nature's way with our own.

This evening that spreads, like a lake without shores,
surrounds me with incense as I write,
and my heart is surprised at such fullness of life
to find itself empty inside.


Without tears, without sobs, though you mourn,
let it go, let it flow to the past.
Leave my road and its night unshared dark.
Mine alone from now on. Here we part.

Do not reach out with pity, or stare.
Don't remain. Don't recall. Don't evoke.
Leave the fog, hopeless, stark, and my work.
No sisterly compassionate look.

Let me be without light or false hope.
Let the sun not burn yellow gold.
Only fears, only tears. Close your heart.
Pluck the sun from the sky and depart.
A tenacious nostalgia grips my aching heart
and does not allow the past to depart.


A tenacious nostalgia grips my aching heart
and does not allow the past to depart.

Someone explains in a disturbing voice
that the soul is tormented only by choice.

The one who shattered this heart with her heel
even laughed in disdain because I could feel.

Still I cannot hate her, much as I try.
My fate is to love without knowing why.

My life is walled in by mists of the past
which robe me in light but rob me of sight.

The one who shattered my heart has long gone.
Sweet intoxicant, sweet delirium,

giving these blessings: love, whimsy and pain.
And life, land and song, blessed things that remain.


A stirring chill, whirring still,
keeps me mollified
by empty trees, yellow leaves
that slow my stride.

Filling paths, failing greens
turn brown and pass
in shades that fade, fields unmade
shadowed grass.

All my fires are banked fires
down to a glow.
And stirring dreams, whirring dreams
flare and go.


You are still alive
in my dying heart.
You are its fantasy,
its desert mirage.

I wait for you still
as if you could arrive,
source of my dream
and dream personified.

My crumbling heart fixes
you into its own time.
My sister, my executioner,
you have not died.


Listen, at least like a sister this time.
Look, all my fantasies are erased.
One last time, come with calm and your grace
to understand my torment and pain.
I am so tired of evasion and games,
and need the touch of a sisterly hand.
I crave your outspoken and candid words.
Come. Even if it's just pity I gain.
I plead for friendship, and want to remain
in your heart where good memory stays.
How can it be that this blaze which stirs
my soul kindles no warmth in yours?


You are the sister of my soul.
You are Fortune's smile,
good news of a new life,
and heaven's balm.

And what, if anything,
am I to you?

You are the clean hope,
the light that ends the dark,
the song after tears,
my oasis, no, my world.

What if anything
am I to you?


I won't judge inferior or choice
in this indifferent, bitter world.
Let me list only what I loved—
your soft words, your eyes, your voice.

I loved the gold-filled autumn fields,
meadows adrift in shifting light,
the echo of words implied, unsaid
when you left and did not speak.

I love the fading light here where
I sit alone, never bored
but grateful for the dreams we shared.
Loving is its own reward.


Once more the old Nayirian grief starts
thrusting itself into our happiness,
pushing itself into the present mist,
reminding us there is no other place,
no nation with such a tragic past,
to haunt and slow the beating heart.

What other land offers such forgiveness,
grows it in its stones and sands?
Where else do rocks, like bare fists,
plunge into the coolness of the skies?

Where else are prayers
so true and plain?
Where else is God's offertory wine
held up by such willing hands?

Where were such cruel daggers, knives,
stabbed so malevolently into eyes?
Where else the soul so much debased,
and God's good earth so stained with blood?


After these indifferent days
weathering winter storms
I wonder who will take you in?
Whom will you keep warm?

Will you survive the fires that burn
these unholy times?
Whose brow will you smooth and soothe?
Whose soul will you stir?

Will you pronounce for someone else
comfort and tears again?
Who will feel your pain as theirs
and say you speak for them?


Don't label yourself sinful or unwise-
love's wounds cleanse the soul and open the eyes.

Don't bemoan the blows that fate often deals-
Pain heightens the power to feel and to heal.

And if love leaves, don't curse its birth-
Keep it a clean memory, without its hurt.

Exult in both joy and grief. Death comes
when the heart cools and becomes numb.

For what is done—waste no regret.
Remorse is for what's not done or said.

Vahan Derian asks: Why shut the door
while a fire still burns, even a small flame?

How many fires have been tamped in error?
A thousand pities. And what a shame.

(Sayat Nova — Armenian troubadour born in 1722.)


Let the evil arrow's aim
always miss the golden flight
of this lark, this child of light.
May she fly free and remain

safe from cold and winter rain.
Let her heart, her life, her soul
be painless and always whole,
playful, joyful, free of blame.

Cleanest of the sun's clear rays,
Hyacinth, unblemished, white—
may the wicked evil eye
never find her in its gaze.


I'm at home with the homeless and the mad,
those who have lost their laughter and their land,

the orphans, the wanderers, the dispossessed
of nationhood, friend and address,

women stripped of modesty and shame
and left desolate and maimed,

those whose eyes dimmed looking at death,
those with nothing to lose now except breath,

those in doorless prisons in the dark,
those charred by fires they did not start—

they are my brothers. Let me join my kind
in oblivion to leave all memory behind.


My soul is soothed by winter,
a cool lullaby of rest.
Its sweet sorrow clasps me
pruning off the past.

My queen has abdicated
left for a distant throne
as I abandon illusions and
memories to walk alone.

Realizing we won't meet
face to face again
I forego pain, warmed at least
by what has been.

Enveloped in sweet sorrow,
bereft of hope, I bless
the future, past and present.
And, yes, I acquiesce.


Someone has gone,
and in silence passed,
shattering my life
into dust.

Someone who brought light
left me in the dark
returning where the sun
gathers light back,

without any regret,
without thought or mind
of what is changed forever
or left behind.


Your address is the same,
Hotel Paris, the same view.
I'm the one who has changed
in my outlook, wants, and mood.

The store facing must be there,
the same posters on your street.
Do the Verlaine quoters go
sweetly quoting stubbornly?

But now I'm estranged from it all
without knowing what it means.
In mind, in heart and in space
my peace still feels like unease.

Perhaps my kind was not meant
to belong to any place.
After all you told me once
"Your fate is the gypsy's fate."


Your dreams have turned to ashes,
your hopes, petrified stone.
Your loves, pillars and statues,
your years have come and gone.
Your days, so hard to endure,
are emptied of their light.


Everything's asleep. Earth and skies at peace.
But here am I wakeful. Are you also awake?
—Go to sleep, precious one, while I try to make
golden legends into lullabies soft and sweet.

—What is that voice from the mountain, coming down
like chains clanging against the moon?
—Sleep, precious, so that morning comes soon.
That is only the night watchman on his rounds.

Soon trumpets, soon drum beats, soon bugles will sound.
Soon morning, soon daylight will break.
I'll wake you then. I'll be here when you wake.
Sleep, sleep, shed the harsh worries you have found.


Don't look at me like that, please.
Don't plunge me into arctic seas.
If you want someone you can scare
with a cold disdainful stare
don't look at me.


If there is no love let me be interred
without words into silent earth.
Let the world whir on with its stingy mirth
if there is no design to sky and stars
if there is no one there to hear my prayers.


When seductive voices call out,
alluring, sweet as flutes,
when hands soft as falling snow
reach tenderly to you,

when they beckon from a distance
toward the unmapped deep
trying to pull you forward
tempting you with sleep,

shake them off with poems.
Tell death to go away.
Don't think it won't be beaten back.
Songs keep death at bay.


As if a huge, silent wing glided past,
changing the light on flowers and grass,
weightless as the twilight wind that goes,
a ghostly sleep-walker dressed in white clothes,

breathing amorphous peace into fields,
like sweet words exchanged while falling asleep,
a chaste dream comes, only to depart,
her going, still stirring my untranquil heart.


The day as it passes turns transparent gray,
shrouding the fields as it fades away,
settling into untroubled sleep,
a calm silence earned by dying day.

The reeds in the water neither bend nor sway.
And field and sky, in quiet respect,
do not quiver or whisper, but only reflect
each other at the end of this day.

And I stand untroubled by the lost and undone
and no longer curse impediment and pain.
Now finally my sorrow recedes like a dream
and I am reconciled with what cannot be won.


Mourn, mourn, my muse. No one else mourned
those who fell and fall unnoticed one and all.
Out of their cold lives endlessly they fell
on alien fields.

Like prematurely dying leaves
the uncounted lost fall without a sound,
dried blood that might ignite
with revenge in time.

They pass hearing the distant call
to take up arms while
their unspent fury waits to scorch
the sea, the earth and sky.

Weep, weep, my muse. No one else
mourned this unmarked crime.
Let your poems and tears try
calling the world to account.


You arrived in my life dressed in white
while winter had begun to excavate
my tomb out of ice, out of snow, out of night.
You smiled through the dark, shedding light.

There's no sound in the house or street tonight.
All my doors are closed and sealed tight.
You alone can save me from despair
from the days of regret and of blight.

My god's name has become Torment
and my prayer a poison-bladed knife.
My soul in its weariness grows cold,
wounded by deaths not by life.

You came dressed in white. Come again
with the sublime light you can bring.
Soothe my sleepless night with your hands
and the clear sweet songs that you sing.

I am here. You are here, you and I
in the magical evening mist.
We're alone, you with me. I too am you.
And perhaps neither of us exists.

Fearful days, tearful days, all are past.
There are no hours for the clocks to toll.
We are spirits, ghosts that last
when we stay together and alone.

All complaints are forgotten and past
left behind with pain and thirst.
A different light is refracted here,
sweeter, with no dark to interfere.

I am here. You are here. You and I
in the magic of this evening mist.
We are alone. I too am you
and neither of us perhaps exists.


What do I have, my heart?
What stays from this, my life,
unsmiling and bled dry,
which like my betrayed land lies beyond salvagin

What is left now for us,
sleepless and desiccated past,
torched down, scorched dry
and like my betrayed land always diminishing?


Evening has come,
noiseless and cool.
The fountains outside,
chide: Calm down, you fool.

Finally it's dark,
a peaceful night.
The stars telegraph:
Nothing lasts but light.

Alone. I will use
every tear when I cry,
and face tomorrow
dry eyed.


Suppose it turned backward, homeward,
to what used to be,
to find you in the same place
at our old spinning wheel;
and I could hear your soothing voice
and feel your hands, slender, worn,
and lean my head against your knees.
Who knew paradise was simply these:
a sun on the horizon, peace-
ful mist upon the grass,
your tales, endless as the wheel


When dusk's last red flare fades and the sun
ignites the mountain tops of the west,
laminating with light each silver crest
while the sea and meadows become one.

Bury me when the day's jovial sounds end,
when petals close and dews gently fall,
as the cool evening mist mutes all
colors; while hills and fields slowly blend.

Lay flowers on my grave; let them wilt
as wild flowers will where they're spread.
Bury me without tears, without words being read.
Boundless quiet, soundless lull, endless still.

(For Stepan Shahumian)

Like a holy flame, eternal, kept ablaze,
like a vigil lighting the dark fury of our age,

ever febrile, ebullient with joy not rage,
brilliant shield of light, protecting as it stays

the evil world of darkness, keeping it at bay;
like a blood-red banner bright with blazing rays,

even homeless, hopeless, we will always praise
and keep your heart an altar where we lay

flaming roses, bearing witness to your day.
Like the sun, we keep your fire to light our way.


I say farewell with love and tears
to time and sun that sear my heart.

Stay well, I say to humankind.
Evil and good, sons of Adam, all.

Stay well, to friends both near and far
and those who wish me ill, godspeed.

Deep shadowed woods, green seas, blue sky,
clouds lined with light, I say good-bye.

Past days turned hazy in memory's fold,
to larks that stay in fields of gold,

to unfurled buds, to unlit souls,
to children still in playtime worlds,

with love, I leave, reluctantly.
Think of me sometime as we used to be.


COMING TO TERMS: The Selected Poetry of Vahan Derian. Copyright © 1991 by Diana Der Hovanessian. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any man­ner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except for brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews. PubUshed by Ashod Press, P. O. Box 1147, New York NY 10159-1147. (212/475/0711)





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