The Dance by Atom Yarjanian
As translated by Peter Balakian and Nevart Yaghlian


In the town of Bardez where Armenians
were still dying,
a German woman, trying not to cry
told me the horror she witnessed:

"This thing I'm telling you about,
I saw with my own eyes.
Behind my window of hell
I clenched my teeth
and watched with my pitiless eyes:
the town of Bardez turned
into a heap of ashes.
Corpses piled high as trees.
From the waters, from the springs,
from the streams and the road,
the stubborn murmur of your blood
still revenges my ear.

Don't be afraid. I must tell you what I saw,
so people will understand
the crimes men do to men.
For two days, by the road to the graveyard . . .
Let the hearts of the whole world understand.
It was Sunday morning,
the first useless Sunday dawning on the corpses.
From dusk to dawn in my room,
with a stabbed woman,
my tears wetting her death.
Suddenly I heard from afar
a dark crowd standing in a vineyard
lashing twenty brides
and singing dirty songs.

Leaving the half-dead girl on the straw mattress,
I went to the balcony on my window
and the crowd seemed to thicken like a clump of trees.
An animal of a man shouted, "you must dance,
dance when our drum beats."
With fury whips cracked
on the flesh of these women.
Hand in hand the brides began their circle dance.
Now, I envied my wounded neighbor
because with a calm snore
she cursed the universe
and gave her soul up to the stars . . .

In vain I shook my fists at the crowd.
'Dance,' they raved,
'dance till you die, infidel beauties.
With your flapping tits, dance!
Smile for us.
You're abandoned now, you're naked slaves,
so dance like a bunch of fuckin' sluts.
We're hot for you all.'
Twenty graceful brides collapsed.
'Get up,' the crowd roared,
brandishing their swords.
Then someone brought a jug of kerosene.
Human justice, I spit in your face.
The brides were anointed.
'Dance,' they thundered -
here's a fragrance you can't get in Arabia.'
With a torch, they set
the naked brides on fire.
And the charred bodies rolled
and tumbled to their deaths . . .
I slammed the shutters
of my windows,
and went over to the dead girl
and asked: 'How can I dig out my eyes?"