Elise Kazanjian is a San Francisco poet/writer who spent her childhood in Tian Jin, China. Her poems and essays have appeared in Fog And Light: San Francisco Through The Eyes of the Poets Who Live Here (2021); Marin Poetry Center 2021 Anthology; New Millennium Writings; and the San Francisco Examiner among others. She has worked at Sunset Magazine; J.W. Thompson Advertising; KQED; CCTV, in Beijing, China; and as a pawnbroker. She is a judge, Prose Poem, Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. She has a collection of over 100 fountain pens and mechanical pencils.
Poems on Belonging
NINE REASONS MY MOTHER INSISTED WE CARRY HANDKERCHIEFS
Because she wanted to protect us. Because to her they were suits of armor. Because they reminded of a time past. Because they were pretty. Old world romantic thinking fused her life, European customs instilled deep in memory. She was in her early twenties when she married, uprooted, moved to a foreign country. She brought familiar items with her to China, like handkerchiefs. Because they must have given confidence coping with the unknown, a new language, new customs, new faces, new life. She learned the language, the customs, acquired new friends, adapted to what was required, all under her code of decorum. She asked the same thing every time we went out. Do you have a clean handkerchief? My sister and I always said, Yes, knowing she trusted us would never ask for proof. Why was it so important? Because a handkerchief was a talisman akin to St. George’s shield, no modern dragons could harm us if we had one. Because handkerchiefs were the compass to navigate the hard times, provide solace through despair, through bends in the road when daily life was at sixes and sevens. Because the world would recognize the value of what the French call politesse, on our collective journey through graciousness sailing through life unscathed. Because delicately embroidered violets on lace-embossed squares of dainty linen reminded her of an age when honor, respect, dignity, were the essential cornerstones of society. .
TO AN UNKNOWN GRANDMOTHER
(For Elise Zadeyan Artinian) You smile on the sepia photo, promise secrets unknown. Elegant, slender, calm, you zero into my very being your ample hair piled high frames a beautiful face, your long stylish dress adorned with French lace, I can almost reach out and touch you. Born more than a century ago, your name is gifted to me. You are etched in my cells, in my blood. I strain to hear your voice whispering through halls of memory. Moved by art, literature, European culture, ridiculed by your stern husband’s jealous sisters underestimated in your acquired family you never complained. Your quest for knowledge, beauty never waned. Talk to me, I beg. Tell me about those nine short years you had with my mother before death claimed you at thirty three pulled from the child you loved. Talk to me, I beg. Tell me all the things a grandmother knows. Tell me what books you read, how you felt, what you wrote, tell me about your life in Istanbul, the city you called Constantinople. Softly I dream your name. Elise Zadeyan Artinian, a gentle benediction that blesses me and my Armenian soul. Allow me entry into the rooms of your past. Your shadowy-embrace nurtures my 86 years. Take me on a journey, reminisce with me. I want to try on your life like a new dress. I want to savor you like a splendid dish, and sate myself knowing I will never be lonely again.
Copyright © 2022 by Elise Kazanjian. Used with permission of the author.