Outtakes from “Like Water on Stone”

By Dana Walrath

Author’s Note

LikeWaterOnStoneBefore Ardziv became a part of this story in the fall of 2011, readers heard directly from a dozen or so characters. Not only does Ardziv hold the young ones and readers safe, once he appeared as omniscient narrator, the storytelling simplified. But these earlier first person poems let readers get a bit deeper into the heads of characters like Mustafa and Anahid. The same was true for me. As I wrote from their POV I could understand their choices, beliefs and actions.

One thing to note as you read is that some major character’s names have changed since this early draft. The most major change is that Shahen was still named Vartan on account of another novel that I have in the works titled “Life it Gives” about Armenian immigrants in NYC in the 1930s. As “Like Water on Stone” came to completion and I really understood Shahen’s character, he could no longer be the Papa character in that NYC story. Instead, I’ve separated the two stories, saving the family name, Vartan Troshagirian, for NYC and let “Like Water on Stone” become the tale of Shahen Donabedian and his family.

Kaban and Palewan had different names in this draft too. Here they are Kemal and Serife. My subconscious had used Mustafa and Kemal as the names for Papa’s best friends. When I realized that these were the names of Attaturk, the found of the first Turkish Republic in 1923, I realized that I must get some distance from that. When researching Kurdish names and finding Kaban, I came across the name Palewan and loved its sounds.

I’ve put corresponding page numbers of the final book in parentheses to make comparisons easy.

Outtakes

Mustafa (page 68-69)

To become Haj,
the Koran says,
give one quarter
of all you have
to those who are
less fortunate.
But Fatima
will not give.

As soon as morning prayers fade to silence
Fatima begins her recitation.
She opens hollow red lips to speak.
I see past her tongue, her teeth, and her throat
to deep in her belly
where she hungers
for finer clothes,
more things,
their land.

She gnaws on the world like a third lamb
masticating its mother’s udder
to make a fresh hole for the milk
when siblings have hold of the teats.

Like Enver Pasha
in Topkapi Palace
she cannot see
we have no need.

Kemal (page 74-5)

Anahid’s deep brown eyes welcome my Ashok
same as Serifeh always welcomed me.
This new daughter is fresh, fine, and sweet
like the flour from her father’s mill.
She works beside my wife in peace
rolling fragrant rice into grape leaves,
grinding spices,
singing.

Side by side at the loom
Serifeh and Anahid
tie bright tight knots of wool.
A new rug for the new lives
this marriage will grow.
A Kurdish pattern, of course,
of interlocking diamonds.
Rust, rose, and red,
blue, brown, and beige.

I never noticed
before
how inside of
each diamond
is a cross.

Anahid (pages 151-2)

When church bells pierced the morning
I wanted to run to the mill,
to Mama, to Papa, to Vartan, Mariam, and Sosi.
But Mama Serifeh pushed me inside a chest and said,
“Snakes in this village
will tell them who you are.
But if soldiers come
they will not find you.
I promise.”
She kissed the top of my head.
She kissed my belly where the new child grows big.
She covered me with blankets.
She closed the lid.

Sounds penetrate the hot close dark chest
shots
screams
Mama
Papa
The peal of bells stops.

Soon smoke and the smell of burning meat
make their way through blankets
to scorch inside my nose.
The baby kicks my gut.

Serifeh (pages 159-160)

I smash cumin seeds
with my pestle.
The heads of the soldiers
questioning Kemal
stay whole.
Kemal stands tall
with prayer shawl
while we hide our hearts
and Anahid
and the baby she carries
in the blanket chest.
Kemal sweats.
His hands shake.
I sit on blankets
smashing seeds
while she hides
in the chest.
A month’s supply
of pungent cumin
cannot cover
the stench of people
burning
in their homes.

Serifeh (Pages 159-160)

Anahid wanted to stay
to bury them.
but I pushed her out the door
with my Ashok.

Sensible girl,
she gave me her cross
burying this part of her
with them.

In my sister’s village
she will be pure Kurd.
When the baby is born
any shred of doubt will scatter.

I can be patient to see this new life,
to see my Ashok, and his bride
during Ramadan.
And I will pray

everyday
for Vartan, Sosi, and Mariam,
that they may get to
America.

Mustafa (Pages 167-169)

I meet Kemal
by the river
at sundown.
We take their bodies.
We wash them of blood.
It was worse for his wife.
Good we brought a cloth
to cover her.

Him, my friend,
my brother,
they slashed his throat.
The gash so deep
his skull hangs on
by ragged bands of muscle only.
We each take one,
one body.
We carry them to Kemal’s.

Serifeh (pages 167-169)

Thank you, Allah
for sparing our grandchild.
Thank you, Allah
for sparing Anahid.
Thank you, Allah
for taking her from here
so she never had to see
what soldiers did to her mother.

Kemal carried her here
wrapped in a cloth,
her clothes all gone,
her breasts severed,
her womb removed.
As I washed her,
cleaned her,
made her pure for the shroud.
Under the smell of blood
rose the unmistakable smell
of man between her legs.

I washed this from her too.

Mustafa (Pages 167-169)

Rising moonlight
slants through trees.
I wash his body.

Kemal digs the grave.
Poor Serifeh washes her.
We wrap them

in shrouds.
We lay them
together,

placing stones
in the shape of a cross
on top of them.

We cover the stones
with earth.
We transplant mint

into the earth
so no one will see
what lies below.

Kemal (Pages 167-169)

We bury Anahid’s cross
separately,
inside a small ceramic bowl
with a fitted lid,
a very shallow grave
that we can find again.

Together we pray for a time
when it will be safe
for our grandchild to know
his mother was Armenian.

If Vartan, Sosi, and Mariam survive,
this child will have a Keri in America.


dana walrathDana Walrath, a writer, artist and anthropologist likes to cross borders and disciplines with her work. After years of using stories and art to teach medical students at University of Vermont’s College of Medicine, she spent 2012-2013 as a Fulbright Scholar in Armenia where she completed her first book, “Like Water on Stone” a verse novel about the Armenian genocide of 1915. Loosely based on the story of her grandmother, “Like Water on Stone” is a Notable Book for a Global Society Award Winner, a Bank Street Best Book of 2015, a Vermont Book Award Finalist and more. Her just released graphic memoir, “Aliceheimer’s” blends the story of life with her mother, Alice, before and during dementia, with stories from Armenia. She has spoken extensively about the role of comics in healing throughout North America and Eurasia including talks at TEDx Battenkill and TEDx Yerevan. She has also shown her artwork in a variety of venues throughout North America and Eurasia. Her recent essays have appeared in Slate and Foreign Policy.

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