Krikor Beledian is widely regarded as the most important poet writing in Western Armenian. A prolific novelist, essayist, and literary critic, he is the author of more than 30 volumes that have been published in the Middle East, Europe, Armenia, and the United States. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, and a long-time resident of Paris, for the last half-century Beledian has chosen to write almost exclusively in Western Armenian, a UN-designated endangered language.

In its 13 parts, “Unpeopled Language” makes up the final section of Beledian’s magnum opus, Mantras (Yerevan, 2010). Throughout the volume, Beledian recasts the mantra as a disruptive tool against what he calls in the preface “the game of expression,” in order to create a “work without contours, held in a ghostly state.” Dire in its subject matter, skeletal in its austerity, and tormented by participating in the very game it decries, “Unpeopled Language” is a groundbreaking work — a ceremony of mourning, suspicious of resurrection, which transforms and expands not only Western Armenian but also English, its language of passage.

¤

1.

we ate salt
sand
then nettles of black snow

on the mountains
now
piercing cold, the ache of extinction

with shriveled
hands
         stuttering
                        the same relentless
denied
witness
to nothing

2.

water
         grew to a throat of fire
the April scent of a scorched corpse
and here light tatters
a face freed of skin
                            dispersion of tin
my breath I gave to the scrapped poem

3.

deep in your eyes
keep
the invisible

it comes
             with the same light every year
                                                           every day

fire ignited by darkness
a beam
facing you into your retina

no ear no fist
no mourning
no rage and lament
nor the whisper of a prophet’s breath
                                                       nothing

the one
who comes with such ceremony
                                     you wrap yourself around every moment
                                     you are warmed by the dead’s breath
                                     which tells you a story and leaves you bereft
soars
to a stutter

there
        neither forward nor back
                                     a blank, caustic sky
                                     which redeems gods only
leans over you, bows down
with a dagger’s whoosh
its shine blinding ash

the one who comes
                              at each throb
with the same denied utterance
the discord from rafters of bodies
holds unresolved
                          at the apex
                                            of your muted voice
the sun rounds back toward roads of carnage

what remained unnamed revolves around you
what was lost
                     heaves here now
                                               the final emptiness
your parched tongue catches fire in your mouth
o you asleep everywhere, prisoner to extinction

¤

Translated by Taline VoskeritchianChristopher Millis