On the Way to Oshagan

I stop the car, cross the dirt road
to see what the old woman’s selling.
Hoping for a cold drink, an extra
postcard to write this evening, I find
her tucked behind a table, under a tarp,
fly swatters swaying above her head.
Stacks of Marlboro boxes, packs of gum
are the only things I recognize among
the odd Russian, Armenian labels.
She must not hear me, because she keeps
rolling a square of newspaper into a cone,
fills it with roasted sunflower seeds.
I ask for one, saying ‘meg hahd hahjees,’
fumbling to find a dram among my dollars.

Her eyes, the color of two almonds
rise for only a moment before she asks
with a low, coarse, parrot-voice
if I like America, if I’m married and where
exactly is this place called ‘Glendale?’
With an awkward smile I drop indifferent
answers for her, like coins in the palm.
Until this exchange I had convinced myself
that I do not look like a tourist. After all, having
an ancestral name, firm family tree, the language
ironed to my tongue since the day I was born,
how could I be just another Amerigatzi? I say
this to myself, though I’m the one with the walking
shoes, the camera, the plaid-patterned pants.

She interrupts my thoughts with ‘Welcome
to Armenia. Please take these seeds for free.’
When I extend the money, I notice her face
shrinks in the afternoon light. Back in Los Angeles
I would have insisted to pay. But with this unexpected
visit I simply remembered how I was raised,
before the textbooks, the corporate  cubicles,
before I learned to get fashion magazine
haircuts, attend culturally sponsored events.
I hear my parents say, ‘Love this seven-member family
all your days and nights, learn to take every offering
with grace, no matter the given size.’
I bow my head, say thank you. She insists
it’s nothing, asks that I come back soon.

Forgetting why it was I stopped at all,
I walk back across the dirt, cracking
one open. Its shell tastes of the same
salted seeds tucked by my grandmother
into coat pockets for evening walks.
Like a small communion, I contemplate
the seed with my tongue and swallow.
I almost turn to wave, but get back
in the car. For miles around, there is nothing
but land I follow on the map.
There is nothing but this old woman
and her convenience stand
made of brick and wood
on the edge of a beaten road.

“On the Way to Oshagan” comes from The Book of Lamenting by Lory Bedikian. Copyright © 2010 Lory Bedikian. Published 2010 by Anhinga Press. All rights reserved.