١ there is a bag of worn out peaches sitting on my kitchen floor that i cannot bear to devour nor to dispose of. i had gotten them for sabaatelef el kilo ya amar from a partially-sighted grocery man in his almost seventies sitting aside his street vending wooden vehicle carrying his career, on the go. one kilo please! i shouted to him, leaning over the steering wheel, my voice traveling over and reaching for his worn out ears in small estimates. tikrami, bi amrik ammo. Allah yehmiki ammo into my eyes, a fatherly smile. yeslamo! I replied when I should’ve said w Allah yehmik. i drove away with the bag of six fuzzy peaches sitting next to me, their scintillating presence of ripeness and peace keeping me company in the traffic of the streets of Mar Mikhael. it was almost six o’clock. a friend had been waiting in a cafe beneath an olive tree only minutes away i had a feeling i smelled like the peaches permeating the gentle and warm August air flooding my car and ears. it was the almost-ending of a gentle day. ٢ we sat and ordered our drinks and dinner and i told her about the man who sold me the bag of peaches and nested a sweet prayer on me, a stranger, as i drove away from his rickety fruit cart in a nook of Mar Mikhael. it was a little past six when everything exploded and everything exploded again and for a minute or less life became not living but ground shaking our tongues transformed into a messy patchwork of thoughts dismantled and shot to pieces by the heaviness of the sounds. everything around us came down with a scream. Language splintered at the seams and there was crying and running wide open onto a grand uncertainty— is this war? will we be held hostage? are we being bombed? does your phone have reception? is your mom answering? is that man dead? should we pay for our meal before running for our lives? is this how i die? it was a little before midnight when i came home on August 4 surprisingly alive Allah yehmiki ammo he had said. i should have replied w Allah yehmik as i drove away from his rickety fruit cart in Mar Mikhael.
What is the significance of this work to you?
As a writer, I have always perceived all experience as teacher, as muse. Typically, upon the finality or within the midst of all sensation, I ask myself: how can I transform this into written word? However, when I experienced the explosion of the Port of Beirut on the fourth of August in the past year, it was not the sensation of traumatic overwhelm that was guiding the word, but the other way around. The tables had, and have turned, ever since. Writing about the Beirut Blast became not a creative endeavor, but the unfolding of my survival instinct. The first, and hopefully the last, I have ever had to experience.
What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?
The genre I feel as most idiosyncratically in unison with my identity is multilingual poetry and prose. As an aspiring authoress who is also a third-culture kid, multilingual poetry and prose allows me to physicalize my and my ancestors’ experiences of historical revisionism and transgenerational trauma. I have always found there to be a symbiotic relationship between culture and literature, and have experienced said relationship firsthand. My socio-geographic stance has enabled me to spend my formative years ethnologically — surrounded by two distinct civilizations, along with their folkway, their literature, and their moral philosophies, notwithstanding the psychological imprints of being a grandchild of genocide survivors. With all that in mind, it was the foreign English language that grabbed me by the bones and lured me into its linguistic and literary studies. Through concocting multilingual poetry and prose, however, I hold the pen with which I draw my reflection in the mirror — a multifaceted woman dressed in the alphabets of all three cultures that took her in and prepared her.
What was your process for creating this work?
"do not go short on prayer" is a mix of fiction and non-fiction. When the world around us exploded that awful day, the first worry I had was, understandably, the safety of my family and friends. However, after the latter was secured, my worry became whether or not all the faces I have met in that area survived the explosion. All their visages came back to me, one by one. Many of them no longer exist in this world because of the explosion. The face of the peach-seller, however, whose fate I was unfortunately not able to know, is not only a representation of a street vendor, but of the entire culture of people who were in the struck area in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Therefore, the process for creating this work was, first and foremost, an instinctual "sit down and talk" session with the collective emotion that pervaded that area on that day. The rest of the process, as I mentioned above, was not in my hands. It was the said emotion finding embodiment in the poem, using me as its vessel for communication.
Perla Kantarjian is a Lebanese-Armenian writer whose works have been published in numerous publications, both print and online. Among her accomplishments are first-prize creative writing awards, both at the secondary school and university level. Her writing pieces have been published in various publications and magazines, including Bookstr, Elephant Journal, Academia, and more. Her most recent publications have been and will be in The Armenian Weekly, Stripes Magazine, Panoply, Rusted Radishes, The International Literary Quarterly, Otherwise Engaged, Indelible, The Hellebore, and Anti-Heroin Chic. Apart from her adventures with creative and journalistic writing, Kantarjian also teaches English literature and journalism at the International College in Beirut, is an invited Creative Armenia network member, and works as a freelance content writer for Bookstr. Her poem, “but i am only fiercely dreaming,” published in the 17th issue of Panoply, was recently selected as Editors’ Choice.