you are in the diode archives winter 2010



Heritage Like Money Then: Exaptation at the Margins,
Risk to Reward Where the Word Meets Itself

To have been colonized by the Eastern for some six hundred years, to have helped shape the Eastern only to be dismantled and dispersed by it, dispersed into land (in turn) colonized by the Western. What is identity then? What is and towards whom does one feel loyalty?

              meaning to dream to lost object to gaze
       theme of human so unlikely but corpse still
baring mother seed on a still point = confusion

I am an Armenian-American from Beirut, Lebanon where a variety of religions, languages and nationalities coexist(ed) in a rare mixture of oriental simultaneity and occidental individualism. I have no mother tongue as my mother tongue has lost me. I implode within this loss, seeking the chaos sustaining the world of languages with a voice that has the body and place of an absent body, after a derivative of the past whereby the new would occur, time and history abolished because of what escapes or survives the disintegration of experience.

As daughter of orphaned parents, I experience identity like a self consuming artifact that hopes to deliver cross-cultural connections as it curates itself, the curating hopefully endorsing the commonality of being human as a continuous and inclusive enterprise rather than a dichotomous or hierarchical one, the longing to connect just because we’re human overshadowing the politic of the human.

the sun declares a bright zero and you gatekeeper
rapture around the bars around you
a father’s house lacking threshold

                big huge eyes

balancing the need for obscurity
against the need for validity

These huge eyes face a contingency much like that faced by a ‘word’ meeting itself on the page or out of someone’s vocal chords. Celebrating this contingency without augmenting or being paralyzed by it is what shapes identity. One keeps the eyes open to the past, shares its glory and shame because as human one is the beneficiary of both. Hence identity’s pluralistic nature—

sliding down a story you know
of counter and inter questions

a multi part message
in mime format

  a happening on pavement I pleasure in

When the pluralistic nature of identity is denied, the ensuing hegemonic monolith exacerbates the distance between cultures, creates pressure, anger, tragedies, scapegoat. To create homogeneity is to avoid risk, while risk is in the very essence of life. No erasure will provide, as when it comes to humanity, one man’s carnal is another’s spiritual, outer is inner, light is dark, profane is sacred. Doubt, debate, disagreement and dissension expand and contract, overlay and mold. Side by side, near to far, parallel or implied, identities evolve as perception works with vision, consciousness and memory, connections develop, and the mutuality thereof reshapes the historical and the collective.

the last colony’s eradicated

                sing do not recite

the pull of the sun endorses heart
liturgy alternates the hour
the conditional stills

inward and outward the techne
between being and charity
parrhesic in nature

I had never met a Turk until I was 40 years old, then I wrote about her. Lale was her name, and one day she told me how she had silenced herself when an Armenian gas station attendant in Northern California asked her if she was Armenian, having seen her car license plate, arac, her last name. That hollow feeling again. Ah the titular! The archness and brickness of categories! They validate and collapse. Turkish American Ozlem Ozgur’s painting titled, Silence is different from Arab American Nida Sinnokrot’s documentary, Palestine Blues, and different from New York based Renee Nikita’s Sarcophagus. Yet all relate to each other because of the human.

Because this therefore that is ongoing, who what where when why how regardless. As I contextualize my self and the other, I am reminded that there are no protagonists, antagonists or narrators, only participants. That is where poetic engagement occurs with ethics, politics, spirituality and aesthetics. It is apocalyptic in nature, it is also a natural state of being, the Heisenberg Principle and maya, Higgs’ neutral non-zero and maya. Like dim sum, a weekend gathering of kindred folk tasting a little something to touch the heart, to your heart’s content, like mezza. Identity belongs to such open ended evolutionary terrain of ethnic, cultural and socio-political identities. Its terrain melts away the insistence, the maximizing and minimizing, re forming mindsets through a humanizing that focuses on the impermanence and insignificance of all things human, all things except the need to connect, just because—

memory feeds a hydraulic limb
fact to symbol gyrate

do I need an interface?

pieces of human that I am
software software please

touch this heart perk
this essential

Identity, like money, is utilized then. Commemoration is needed no more. We are response able, after responsible choices, not after burden or fault or blame or praise or credit or shame or guilt, nor after anything gone right or wrong. We have no ‘truth’ but a place to stand, a place of grace we give ourselves. We have a say in the matter then. We have power. Elastic and interwoven. Then again, how do we come in? Lucifer, bringer of light, enlighten us to merge what is scholarly with what is literally with what is human. Help us feed our souls, unite opposing theories and people. Lawrence Lessig’s Remix. Otherwise, ceremony after ceremony’s carried out to no avail, an everyday distraction from pain. We huddle and mimic in-between the huddling. A people, a person, a country, a nation with no connection, no departure, no renewal, no vision but that of stagnation and preservation. Preservation of what, pray!

at times captured on canvas or film
              alliterating our moans

because we wished to make a point in our minds
about staves from Turkish knives
and gold

These challenges seemed insurmountable to the Armenian for centuries. No one could hear us the way we needed to be heard. We also could not hear ourselves. I left Beirut because I wanted to get away from not being heard, and from the bourgeoisie. What good is an affluent society when all it does is perpetuate more of the same, more consumption, more ethnically cemented organizations that cannot historically and presently define a future in which we exist, not as we have existed but differently, freshly, not through futile outbursts but passionate about curating ourselves vis a vis the rest of the world for years to come. I once called myself an amorphous glob of pitch, other times, confused Jerusalem. I addressed Armenian identity as a web in space of triangles reaching out against themselves. I would have liked that to be a dance instead, Armenians dancing with pieces of identity, going forward, exapting. No caricatures of self, false labor, asthmatic, titles all around—

           well documented wet

where the railing matched horizon and I wept
because I saw it

I saw those well documented Sundays
rising for rehearsal to a prelude

the missing crack ditched somewhere
hardwood and dry rot and later

bungled into a statement about
the homeless the hungry

        and I a thorn in your lap

an empty lap that's all
an accident so—

I ran away to the pines

after a new found hammock's tune
dim under light and guarded so

it only pokes when you un-camp
an equivalent

And so it is with a well documented wetness. One runs away to the pines, after a new found hammock’s tune because a shameful complicity is enacted when lack of identity further presses reality into signification. As an Armenian American poet, I attempt to undo this process by constructing (not describing) a space at the edge of meaning whereby identity is released back to its neutral non-zero field. So, what is given stands ground, prevails, no solving or re solving or dis solving but revelations—complementary or dissonant, outer and inner, polluted or pure. We have a choice to rename re pair re use our heritage without adhering to it. We are both artist and canvas, I say, heeding the plasticity and exuberance of intentionality.

We, naked, rigid, confused, hurting, shamed and ashamed, insecure, but not weak. We, haunted by ourselves, feeling singular at all points in history, detached and attached to an ancestry. We carry a stain. Is it a social or fiscal stain, or both? Is it voluntary? Virtual? We have consumed lack, cushioned in a foundation of lack, mostly living in others’ lands while seeking our land, speaking others’ languages while boasting about our own. Is the Genocide our unheimlich we are accustomed to, or has it somehow activated the possibility of a new identity that represses the old to express the new? Here, I am reminded of the FOXP2 language gene in humans, birds and other animals. The gene is said to be activated to repress certain other genes to make a sound, song, language. Shall we look for that new song, that new language?

Identity is never given, received or attained. It just is. We cannot survive it. While mutually exclusive states create conflict, opening hearts and minds to explore shared and intersecting pasts to shape and be shaped for a present and future reconciles Ranciere’s perception of ‘the regime of perception in society’ with Soltau’s ‘stitches’, no problem. Purity at large, parts missing, interfaces, iterative and locative. Lesions come from visions too, and lesions have visions. Greatcoat where are you, with a telling enchantée, I nod at you. For as one experiences the opaqueness of reality, one moves further into the realm of its antennae. Dualities do not alter the possibility of harmony in that space. Does absence increase presence? Is union unveiled by separation?

it was a gun—a day—an ana baba gun day
because of some dissertation to connect
to break down signs that do not
at the same time help build
rehab retail

theory we all are amado mio
        they left we stayed

where lines meet a corner delivers notion
facing dawn to salute its jet black
thought reversed in the heart

my lens against your compassion
so many pieces the color of self

                   l’histoire de retrouvailles

things like that don’t just happen dearest
ana baba family & relatives all

a yes and no for a nation
under passage  

        gunlar ve gunlar the road

a song of huzun painted on each side
and a cloak that spells

             bill me for the need

combing combing
re membering

        our backs to the street

What transforms us will always be the expression of feeling and not the intellectualization of it, the remembering of our power and limitations, our diversities and commonalities, subsequently and increasingly losing identity to a pure, raw, abstract hyper-identity of sorts, an I, motherless and barefoot by the tracks of a multicultural wind. And where does wind come from? Hawa = wind = love in Arabic, and Yahwa = God = He loves.

While convictions and philosophy reflect flat faces, identity moves towards a fluidity of culture, is a site of conscience, an event, cherchent, changent, Bergson’s souvenir du present. What happens there is what we really want, that something new, at the edge. We human expats, nomads, exapting, without con ceit con coct con jecture con cording cordance, hearing listening responding con templative, con vivencia. Identity and authenticity dwell within this uncertainty which is not historically conditioned.

you and me computationally irreducible
the sun’s epinoia I am glad to tell
the kings the queens blanked

Here is exaptation = expanded adaptation, a fairly and newly revised evolutionary concept, quality and generosity driven. It heralds evolving through adapting but also through active and conscious will and effort. “All unions are fake until they are constructed”, said Homi Bhabha. One inhabits and celebrates one’s strange-ness without the singularity of the short lived ‘i’, the person, the nation, the word, the electron destined for chaos. Here is receptive elegance, swirls and layers of Milosz Forman’s ‘floating platform’, an otherwise unknown but hopeful future modulating over trans-national territories, driven but not bound by history and heritage. Logos that binds, gathers, relates without entrapment, moving onward, taking the ghosts of other possibilities along. Homi Bhabha’s “being obliged to forget becomes the basis for remembering anew”. A translation is occurring at the moment of enunciation as the ‘word’ meets itself, a re-articulation or negotiation has been made at the edges of meaning, difference has been embraced. The meanwhile is here. Uncertainty is operative, so is solidarity.

Then there is hope. It is the hope of the witness whose integrity is integral to generating hope, hope to make the river newly. No more plaster for cracks, no fuss, no silence, no stutters either. Celan reads, “. . . There are roses in the house . . . where they beat my father and mother to death: what bloomed there, what blooms there?”  


Arpine Konyalian Grenier is a poet turned scientist and musician. She holds graduate degrees from the American University of Beirut and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College, New York. Her poetry and translations (French and Chinese) have appeared in How2, Columbia Poetry Review, Sulfur, The Iowa Review, Phoebe, Fence, Verse, Big Bridge, and elsewhere, including several anthologies. She has repeatedly been chosen finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Greg Grummer Award, and has authored three volumes of poetry.