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Turkey Diary: Recognition 18 July 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Poetry, Travel.

1. Sanliurfa, July 14

He runs in front of me, dark-haired, wearing red. For half of a moment, I know him. My student, Muhammad, is here. To our right, the pool churns with bodies, wet and black. The ashes from Nimrod’s fire settled here, or so the Turks believe. Each flake became a fish; each fish is overfed. In groups of two they are beautiful. In tens, they are dense. In hundreds, grotesque. In front of the man selling pellets of food, I can no longer see water between the confusion of fins. They are like flies on a chicken bone, like snakes, spawning.

I do not have time to call his name before logic sets in. It is a pilgrimage site; there are thousands of people resembling him here. The boy I see cannot be mine. I have gone as far as I can go, alone on a network of buses and trains, fleeing school, children, home. And now, now that I have found a place where no one knows me, the happiest my heart has felt since God knows when is in this moment of temporary confusion. When I can see, from behind, a little boy, and believe, Muhammad, that he is you.

2. Istanbul (Asian Side, Benici Farm Compound), July 16

The poet is trying to explain what gets lost in translation. “Azrael is standing at the door,” he touches the table with his hands. “And the man has only a moment left. He is asking for just one thing. He is praying to Allah for love.”

Outside, it is raining. Bits of Asia fall onto Europe and vice versa. We wait; he blushes, frustrated, mad. He wants to control how he is read. I feel watching him, as if I am looking back in time. I used to want the same thing, until I gave up on poetry. Now I do not write it, except in my head. When I cannot resist sharing, then I bury the poems in sentences, and stuff them into paragraphs, and mound essays around them. I disguise their true natures, so that they will be unassumingly read.

I imagine, out the window, his hero, expiring. “I cannot translate this one word,” he says. He indicates, pointing. “Ashk. In English, there is no word with so many meanings for love.”

My pride rises up without thinking. “Love is not such a small word in English,” I argue. “It can mean more than one thing. There are many expressions of love.”

He shakes his head. “In the West, what is love? It is the love between a man and a woman only. You even have a phrase for it, don’t you?” He stares patiently at me. “Anna-abla, you Americans…”

I work to understand. “Which love do you mean, here in your poem, that the hero is waiting for?” If he explains it to me aloud, maybe the right word will become clear. “You do not mean that before he dies, he wants a woman’s love. Or a child’s love, or a parent’s love…” I shift in my chair to stop hurting. I am tempted today to write poetry because it requires less work from the hands.

Despondence sits besides me and rubs his eyes. “The love of departure. The love of rejoining. The love of returning to God.”

3. Bosphorus Strait, July 5

She takes my breath away. The crowd at the ferry’s doorway bubbles around her. Tall and pale with grey-blue eyes, she is clothed in the same manner as I am. Thin, with flat shoes. Everything fits; she is not dressed up, she is not disguised. She is comfortable. At ease.

I try not to stare. What makes her so lovely? She walks with a family, a woman and her son, and picks a bench near me. The ferry’s engine starts up, and ever so gently we leave. I would not know that we were moving, but for the scenery outside. Beside me, the family whispers. “Ask her if she is Turkish,” the girl commands her man. For a moment, our eyes touch each other. None of us speaks, or moves.

Europe floats away. The four of us try to watch one another without watching. They regard the seat near me, where my bag presently sits. I move it into my lap. They are Muslim, I think shyly. The right thing is to give your salaam. The right thing to do is to speak.

We move at the same time. She rockets from her bench into the space which I have freed, and I unglue my tongue. “Salaamu alaikum,” I smile my best. “Wa alaikum salaam,” she replies. After questions of national origin, we begin with names. Mona. Anna.

For twenty minutes we drift across Norway, America, Turkey, the deen. She has come to marry her beloved; the man at her side, perhaps twenty-three, has eyes which (for her) gleam.

Later on that night, while the train takes me into Anatolia, I miss Mona’s smile. There were perhaps three minutes when we shared the same space, before I spoke to her. I wasted one eighth of our time. I wonder, falling asleep, if I will be asked to explain.



1. Anonymous - 19 July 2008

i like to hide my poetry in cans of sun dried tomatoes with expiration dates that allows me to rediscover them. i also like to eat sun dried tomatoes.

your words are like blankets from childhood i still like to smell.

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