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Buried Treasure: Vahé Oshagan marches toward literature

Translated by Taline Voskeritchian

May 10, 2019  |  by Anush Ter-Khachatryan


Western Armenian poet, writer, and literary critic Vahé Oshagan is one of the most radical voices of Armenian literature. Born in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and raised in Egypt, Cyprus, then Jerusalem, he was a sojourner of the world, with a mobility he glorified in his edict: “Move! Do not remain paralysed in one place, change your environment!” 

Getting his doctorate in comparative literature from University of Sorbonne, Oshagan taught philosophy, psychology and literature at such prominent institutions as Columbia University, Macquarie University in Sydney, University of California at Berkeley and American University of Beirut. He authored eight volumes of poetry, six volumes of fiction, two collections of short stories, many plays, literary articles, and essays. 


Oshagan revolutionized Armenian poetry. Inspired by French existentialism and his own life of constant exile and displacement, he made use of new forms that diverged from the stale limitations under which Armenian poets operated for centuries. Oshagan’s works are genuinely Armenian, yet universal. He transmuted the details of national torment into lyrics and images of the most fundamental human struggle for existence.

To this day, Oshagan has never been translated for publication in the English language. Nevertheless, Taline Voskeritchian, lecturer at Boston University and co-director of the 2016 documentary Vahe Oshagan: Between Acts, has produced a masterful translation of Oshagan’s poem Toward Life (Դէպի Կեանք). No work better reflects the amplitude of his literary talent, worldview, and indefeasible march than the one presented below.

               — Anush Ter-Khachatryan

Toward Life

By Vahé Oshagan

Translated by Taline Voskeritchian 


This midday too

god sits in death’s shade wipes the sweat off his forehead

takes out the round gold watch


thousands cross-legged in circles listen to fairy tales

that swing from the tongues of tiny, suspended bells—

this is our life

dragging a torn fishing-net on our shoulder we walk the streets

the shrieking mob chases a decrepit whore ten months pregnant

liquid-eyed vagrant seven time's over 

for twenty-four hours we celebrate a single instant’s birthday

arms thrust in the wind fingers of nakedness opened

the longings throb incurably bit by bit—

oh this life

from the cradle they anointed us married us off in the stealth of darkness

we have now left home gone to the villages whoring with every passer-by

day and night hungry sleepless I’m out on the street I search

who is it? what is it? no one knows no one has seen

innumerable fetid wounds pave the world

I will bend down kiss

life is a street where the urchins have seized me chasing me, laughing at me

miniature holy desert I rent out to predators of human beings

and I flee stumbling through photocopy corridors:

How to live?

the invisible steel webs of wisdom cover the universe

caught in it I soar on the surface of consciousness

brand new useless furniture and housewares parade all day

isolated from the desolate living room we will stand face to face

look at each other to say what is already at the bottom of wind and water

fossils glitter in the pearly halls of the heart

seated on the ground I wait I’ve been jobless six months all the way back until there from where we did

not yet start on the road all of us huddle nose to nose

no place left on the universe’s weathered sofa except to stand on one leg

cast a shadow in the morning and gather it at night.

And I live

in the pandemonium I have opened my palm begging from all four corners

whatever falls whoever steals in broad daylight

spreads it out carefully in the suburbs of loneliness without streets without sidewalks

but I sprout from the slits of desire bringing the light with me

to find the road before I’m lost traceless formless

caught in the sweet glue we wander how can we not love and hate each other?

the world and I are twins attached to each other on all sides

two bastards we lurk in the vicinity of the whorehouse

looking for our bashful mother

but everywhere the rustle of curtains the veil and patina of brides

thick dust of Vesuvius buried in it inside the horizon’s eyelid

leaning against each other we keep steadfast vigil for a miracle’s birth:


My life is the light

plastered wastefully on the eye of the world

poured freely for the famine-crazed wild multitudes

gigantic bribe for the hiding atoms to come out and look at me

perhaps we will recognize each other have something to say

at the exit of the same womb we too have crouched seated for centuries

our eyes on the empty white walls we smile like idiots

what business do we have in these parts?

for whose soul do these lamps burn?

what waste of luck this is which we barely managed to acquire

and arrived here spread the carpet on the grass took out the sandwiches and lay back

and already the guise of light covers us with the armors of dinosaurs

with insect feet we slide across the invisible hide of light

we have fun toast life strut around wearing shadows.


My life is darkness

I fall in it at each step there are pot holes one inside the other they have no end

and no beginning on this hot pain they have poured thick asphalt

armies of ants carrying the world dance on my skin

who cares that people run barefoot crazed toward destruction

and then they are not there they have escaped and gone to the cellars of exile

and they keep me hostage or bury me or throw me in a corner

all by myself they have locked the photographer’s darkroom from inside and outside

all day all night nothing better to do than sitting around washing and drying film, hanging it on the wall

without ever knowing who looks at you from whose voice is it from the depths of mouths the cassettes

spin for twenty four hours a day

understand if you can, anyone knocking on the door at midnight? Does the world know

                                                                                                                you are alive?

holding on like this to the limitless sail of consciousness

taut and ready waiting, where oh where is the wind’s feather to come and take me

beyond this darkness this light there’s no address or identity—

only love

from the grids and cages of bones from the gutters of the sky’s roof from the neumes of

                                                                                                                my palms

in the downward sleep of time tumbling all the way to the pail of suffering

never ever use the word for happiness it will die

and with it will disappear love back to the table’s crumbs the crowd has left

everything begins after the feast no one tells you the news

by the time you find out it is too late you will stand under the wall and watch

no need anymore to crack jokes at dinner with your mouth full

to talk seriously about the Pope to hurry to the airport your heart full of fear

to stand in line at the unemployment office for hours and lifetimes

to shovel the snow toward the street toward the city toward the world which is not there

our eyes are cheap beads gathered from streams and sidewalks

the crickets the cars Baron Setrak and Vivaldi

all operate on the same loom of virgin silence mysterious and coded

what message?

whose tongues have Gengis Khan’s executioners cut

and thrown me back to the gardens of childhood filled with mines

now they explode one by one you must walk run play

sing scream this is my body poured like this to edge of the horizon

the ring where shall we take it? we are orphaned atoms all of us

bride and bridegroom father-in-law mother-in-law brother-in-law

sister-in-law cousin niece nephew, godfather, godmother

bridegroom come outside

see, everything and all of us are relatives and in-laws

from the old sorrowful whore seated at the door knees wide open saliva flowing from

                                                                                                                her mouth

from the debauched indolent hashish addict the shameless lewd procurer

the virtuous lovesick inconsolable and abandoned nun

from the darkened and virgin thickets the beasts devouring each other

from the volcano’s exploding heart from the seas of misfortune from the houses stacked

one on top of another

from inside the contaminated filth until the altar the chrism the ointment

love a gigantic magnet thousands and thousands of crumbs which shine glitter quiver

stone water air tree light man and insect

we have gathered under the huge empty copula

hey bridegroom of ours look here

how will you recognize us you neither see nor hear nor touch

we sleep in hideouts made of syllables we have built sanctuaries of alphabets

clothes of words cover us, disguise us for eternity

now we are standing in groups our cocktail drinks in our hands we talk about this and


a little while later faceless employees will ask for our tickets

break the thread of conversation open the door push us all to the tarmac

outside in the dark no one will remember us greet us with a hello

suddenly voices will call us please come this way this way hurry up

and hundreds of hands will hold pull push into the line

it is the old couch of the whorehouse but the anxiety of waiting is not there anymore

the intermission has ended other people are standing in the corridors.

What did we understand from all that has transpired?

the heels always wore out on the outside

against closed doors we cursed we sobbed we yearned

we dyed our hair black secretly we swallowed many pills

we did not eat onions and garlic we used deodorant under our arms

we learned to read and write we had visiting cards printed

taking on the airs of people in the know reliable serious

our heads down with slow steps we walked back and forth back and forth on carpets

talking about immortality the black market the Secret Army

we had our pictures taken we made the sign of the cross we received greetings

on the phone we talked about life death love giving our advice

without a smile wearing glasses holding candles in our hands we walked around each other

but no one was fooled

and we remained human-like scarecrows scattered here and there in the silent desolate 


not a single bird flying back and forth noticed us

while the solitary tiller from the distant mist waved his arm to us

but not a single seed reached the path of consciousness

and I am still here holding a child’s tiny silver spoon

confused useless words hang from my mouth

the colorful threads of the clowns have become a tangled mess

whom to tell the story how to tell it no one believes it anymore

that what happened was not an accident and the fairy tale has no end

a thrust cork floats on eternity’s surface and bottom

there was no escape when they lay the trap.

I will go toward life

to the stairs of the future there a duplicate standing naked

to the impossible appointment when is it where is it oh my god before they lock up the 

coffee shop

to the sidewalks of midnight to wander a famished shadow

I am and I am not we will live in the multitude of the covered market

I sell memories . . .   I sell memories . . . who will buy them . . . come take them . . .

I offer them for free

I am made of crumbs fallen to the ground around the potter’s chair

given shape in a hurry in the dark incomplete

placed at the center breathless to endure until I reach some place

the world poured all over the place  sand heap of an adventure-stricken truck

I sell memories . . . what do you care who I am what I am

I buy your torn underwear the smell of your mouth your shit

I am the only customer of your life you have locked the door inside what are you doing?

I am the sole heir of your treasures where have you buried them?

don’t you know that the desert begins beyond this point

the tortoise has fallen on its back the cripple has curled on himself

people each one a letter-bomb they explode in my hands as soon as I open them

the crumbs the echo fill the exotic bubble

which is carried across rooftops tumbles through the streets

that’s me that’s me

I have come before myself to herald my coming

the guest list in my hand to prepare the big feast

the last hope of the universe’s blind deacon of a firefly

maybe this time for a second the narrow path will be visible

toward life. 


Anush Ter-Khachatryan is a writer living in Yerevan.

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