Gorky, Arshile
IMAGE: The Artist and His Mother, 1926–c. 1936, Arshile Gorky ©
His Mother’s Apron. Arshile Gorky was the name taken by Armenian painter Vosdanik Manook Adoian during his exile in the USA (1920-1948) following the extermination of many members of his family and community in Turkey. The works alluded to in the poem are: The Artist and his Mother (1929), Nightime, Enigma, Nostalgia (1931), Garden in Sochi (1942), and How my Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in my Life (1944).

His Mother's Apron
Born on the shores of Lake Van, 
at fifteen you watched your mother starve
then set about the long journey to America.

Re-birth came in the colours of Cézanne, 
in still-lifes where the water in the pitcher never ran dry
for Arshile Gorky, instructor in the Boston School of Design.

But the thirties brought back hunger, imagination’s retreat
into monochrome, ink and paper. Night-time, Enigma, Nostalgia, 
or was it really nightmare, obscurity, the haunting presence of memories?

Like the coloured strips of cloth hung by villagers on the holy tree 
of your father’s orchard, that fluttered in the yellow breeze? 
You re-named it after Sochi, a Black Sea resort you had never seen.

And how many of your Surrealist friends knew the truth of Khorkom, 
the village of your birth, the church astride the island of Akhmatar,
the manuscripts of Varak your mother showed you?  All torched.

Your mother’s eyes, iconic, look both out and in 
from her portraits; the viewer blessed but superfluous,
her apron stripped of its flowers, pale as a shroud

until a charmed summer in Virginia and the smell of gardenia,
when the memory of her embroidered apron 
unfolds in echoes of the stories she told 

as you pressed your face into its long folds, 
its abstract, Armenian forms that seep onto the canvas, 
amorphous, bleeding and strangely free.

You write to your sister:
I shall resurrect Armenia with my brush for all to see.