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Willow shade Oct 2020
Gandza (the city beyond the conflict area) bombed by Armenia

Issa Aug 2017
When I first met you, I didn't make friends with you right away. I thought you were an unmovable rock and I didn’t try pushing to start a conversation with you because I feared it would be an awkward one - as fleeting as a stone skipped across the water - and I thought you weren’t worth it.

I circumnavigated you for weeks on end. You were a quiet, windless lake, and I never thought it would be possible to hear you speak to me because there was no common ground between us. We didn’t find a piece of thread to tie our makeshift tin-can telephone together.

Yet, one day, there was a time I needed to ask someone for help. Of course, you were not my first choice. If everyone else wasn’t busy, I would never have broken my silence with you that day.

What was it that I needed? I wanted to know the translation of one, tiny foreign word I discovered attached to two blocks of stone set into a necklace. You were about to walk away, but I mustered my courage to tap your back and ask a question. When you answered, I understood that the word was a symbol for war and separation.

Ironically, it was the word that bridged the gap; the thread that made a way for us to exchange our first, real words with each other.

Artsakh. It was the word that made us friends.

Artsakh* sparked a conversation between us, and I was surprised because you were interested enough in our first exchange to share a story, which led to another, and then another.

The words you spoke to me in your feathery-soft voice splashed ice-cold water in the face of my parched first impression of you. You were no longer an unmovable rock - no, you were a broken rock from which streams of cool water gushed out. I washed my eyes from that stream and saw you as a new friend who opened up his life to me after a long time of silence.

One of the reasons why I found you so difficult to talk to was that you always hid your eyes under tea- or black coffee-coloured glasses. I have always believed that eyes are the windows to the soul, and when you cover yours, it’s like you’ve barred up your soul from the outside world.

Then, one afternoon, maybe because it was too hot or too dark inside the room - I don’t really know the reason - you took off your corrective lenses. And for the first time, I finally saw your eyes. They were a darker shade than your cinnamon-coloured hair, and I was taken aback because they were so beautiful.

I knew that I had to tell you what I thought, because maybe the reason why you always covered them up was that you were insecure about them or with your inability to see rightly with them. Since beauty always garners admiration, I also needed to mask the affection that suddenly bubbled up inside me. I wanted to bury it, and I did get to lay it to rest - but, I used a glass coffin.

If I succeeded in putting it six feet under, I wouldn’t have abandoned my books, cut off my sleeves, and waited under the shade of a tree with our friends during a hot day for you. At least I was rewarded with seeing your eyes again.

Of course you noticed me, and I had to shield myself from the rays of your bright gaze to hide the fact that I could hear fists pounding and small cracks forming on the glass coffin inside me. I looked at it and saw a huge spider web etched on the surface.

I’m not sure if I should replace it or allow it to shatter. But I feel like filling it up with cement because I need peace to think about things that are more important than thinking about how I feel about you.

What is it that I like about you? Beyond your eyes, obviously, I also like how you’re more quiet than everyone else - and despite that, you’ve let me in and let me become a part of your story.

Yet when I see you, I try not to see the reserved and silent expression you wear everyday, but I peer into the future to find you doing great exploits and baring your iron soul which has found the great power to influence within.

Because I’ve seen glimpses of that soul--like the time I asked you to write down your dream on my journal. I read that you wanted to be good at the career you chose, and that you wanted to help people.

The other friends whom I also asked to write their dreams usually wrote variations of the first part of your dream, but they didn’t usually express the second part. So I like how you included that you wanted to help.

I hope we will continue to become good friends. And I believe I will be there to witness you building bridges to more people like me, and even a bigger bridge that makes a way for the next generation towards a brighter future for your country.

And I hope for the day when you no longer hide your eyes. Because what they are two diamonds in the rough; two bright suns which will pull out wide smiles from the people around you - and most importantly, out of your own lips.
*Artsakh is an ethnically Armenian territory for which Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting over.
For my friend with an archangel namesake. What do you feel when you make friends with an introvert?
Joe Cottonwood Aug 2017
Curtains thick as carpets
shut out the courtyard, neighbors, society.
She’s a gentle, cane-walking woman.
Posture of a question mark. The cords of her neck,
withered stalks as she peers up at me.
From eye to jaw a scar like a dried fig.
The world has run roughshod over this woman.
Pointing at the baseboard heater, she folds
arms over chest, shivers in drama.
“Okay,” I say. “I get it.”

With screwdriver and flashlight I kneel on a rug
woven with exquisite patterns of dangerous beasts:
dragon, eagle, serpent. A nudge on my arm.
Holding a tray of baklava and apricots, she says, “Take.”
In a minute she’s back with a tiny cup. “Take.”
Brew so thick that if you spilled, the coffee
would not splash. It would shatter.

Soon my belly is grinding like a coffee mill.
And the heater is fixed. I kneel over the baseboard,
rubbing my hands in a pantomime of heat.
She takes my face between her fingers.
She beams, nodding her head.
It’s a thank you, but more.
Be nice, she seems to say, and conquer evil.
Opening the door, she sends me outside
with my tool belt and work boots
to the bright sunlight of California, USA.
First published in *Dove Tales*

— The End —