April 3, 2024

Buried deep in the back of my mind is “amota,”

stuck there like handcuffs around my wrists

that, try as I might, I cannot forget


When I walk a different path,

it lingers and whispers, “I am here”


In the neighborhood where I grew up,

little girls learned how to hedge, cook, and clean


All I wanted to do was

stay in bed, book in hand, and read


I knew all the names on the Lakers roster:

Campbell, Eddie Jones, and Van Exel

Kobe, Shaq, Rick, Horry, and Fish


While this knowledge was encouraged,

if I spoke up and questioned why some of the men didn’t clean, 

my family would glare


Don’t question them

Don’t talk too loud, you will sound angry


Every one of our actions was dictated by 

“What will they think? Amota”


Do you mean my uncle’s wife or my grandpa’s brother?  

Or perhaps the neighbor across the street in apartment 10?


At the same time, I enjoyed hearing my mother’s stories while we baked

She told me about her life in Armenia


I also enjoyed giving a peck on the cheek

to the cute boy on our street


Questioning why it felt so darn good

when all they tried to do was make me feel guilty


And I learned how to love my culture

while defying the superficial rules


How to forge my own path

and love what I do


Learn to ignore the looks and the messages

and replace “amota” with “do what feels right”


Susanna Semerdzhyan is an Armenian-American poet based in Los Angeles. She is also an ESL Instructor. Drawing on her experience of being an Armenian-American, a descendent of Armenian Genocide survivors, a child of immigrants, and a first generation college graduate, her poetry is about identity and touches on themes of multiculturalism, multilingualism, empowerment, authenticity, discovery, confidence, community, and belonging. You can find more of her work on her blog You’re a Masterpiece on Substack and suzyspoet on Instagram.


Featured image by Sorin Gheorghita.