Following the Bs
You said, “clouds are where you’ve been vacationing.”
I said, “yes, the clouds are fine en lieu of other opportunities,”
for when Istanbul comes banging by like a dolmuş
with an engine that’s been rebuilt three times, or when I
catch an elbow from a pushy village lady buying eggplant
well yes, I sometimes need clouds for cushions
to rest my arms in the arms of the wind.
See, at last the warm lodos is over as there’s a downpour,
and I’m be glad to vacation in this cool Poyraz rain,
and I’m glad I’m vacationing with someone who knows
this city too well, just as I am now only an occasional tourist.
(This is how I learned to love ancient stones and houses of worship
and ugly concrete apartments stretching for miles.)
But I would be glad to make you a tourist in your city
so we may discover what you’ve taken for granted.
I suggest we start with September, its heavy rain
backing up drains, flooding Kadıköy and Üsküdar,
the muddy water pouring into the Bosphorus,
but you insist, “please, let’s start with spring
because you can follow birds from every direction--
The white stork from Europe, the Caucasian black grouse,
even the northern bald ibis if you’re lucky,” and I say,
“yes, let’s follow Bs, even honey bees if you like.”
Somewhere on the Black Sea
Ferns, figs, pine forests, truffles--
On our way to a town
Where they speak with a crazy accent.
I have no idea what they’re saying
so I nod.
They want to believe I understand them
so they smile.
We’re having a great time.
I will lie in sunlight on stones poking through matted stalks. I don’t mind hard knots in the earth because the Archimedes screw to my heart irrigates every shadow I can nestle up to. You are now that same black dust, a fleeting movement scurrying from one dark corner to the next—as certain as an unhappy mugshot. But I do love the discomfort and the exquisite heat on my eyelids as you have been cast in this foundry, used and torn apart, sure as they break ships in Chittagong.
The Far Shore
For Vic Sage
If we were walking in Norfolk countryside catching up
on the years, considering staghead oaks and the grave
of John Brinsley Easy as we entered low lying mist,
I could not tell you how, from that obscured beyond
where we are always headed, I came to live in Istanbul.
It was as if suddenly, while looking out the window
at the Asian shore while snow was falling, I knew
the past had created a moment when I saw the cities
I had lived in grow together, where a bay, a sound,
a strait and a sea thousands of miles apart joined.
This place then spread out before me with throughways
and dead ends, spindly lanes that humped their way
up hills and down. A boulevard’s stoplight transfixed me
before I drove on into a side alley. The haphazard
warren of an old neighborhood street surrounded me
by a cement block apartment with zigzags scratched
in its cracking plaster façade, next to an empty lot
where girls gathered to play in the grass,
next to an abandoned wood building, blackened by sun,
leaning, depending on the cypress next to it for support.
Through the broken windows I could see ceiling lathe
hanging down, breaking free of the fresco of faint
grape vines done in black, trellised on umber stakes,
framed at the molding with medallions of black and grey.
Small fissures of light entered the room’s broken walls,
crisp shapes that passed through the house as families
moving through hallways, rooms in daily routines,
dozens of bodies treading well-mapped paths,
greeting changes in the day like a sundial,
dining together after sunset on the divan in darkness.
Your Gothic was there in their shadowed shapes,
the animate foreboding that lives in all things,
present in the fog and the pint we might stop for,
alive in our voices deliberating, extending as they should
far beyond the reach of our footsteps, into pictures
on pages of books we haven’t opened and won’t.
Our name isn’t written there on the picture of someone else,
yet we will have done what we could to know it
as well as chicken biryani on Clapham High Street.
A Notebook is a Garden of Names
This tea garden by the sea is just right:
a warm breeze, sunglasses to dull the glare,
and sun falling through the thatch,
mottling my legs with leaf-shaped light.
I know no one sitting here. They
are drinking tea, chatting, playing backgammon, or looking
at the fishing boats and calm harbor water.
I am taking notes. I stop, stare at the hot reflection
coming off the water. I am not alone.
Andrew and I are taking a dip offshore,
Floating around and talking—about what
I have no idea. We are heading back to the beach
after swimming to the end of the breakwater.
Seven years ago. It’s July and that was
September. Richard and his daughter Melek
were sitting in the tea house when we came ashore.
He’s in Oslo now for a concert, playing a fusion
of East and West. I hope it goes well!
Mom brought Menuhin Meets Shankar home
when I was eleven. I was stunned
but not by the exotic. There were many things
I had not heard and there is always more.
Notes spiraled up and down. I was awash
in the unfamiliar rasas, one virtuoso leading
then following, Alla Rakha’s tabla grounding
their flights of fancy. Years later when looking
at Blake, who I believe is the greatest illustrator of fire,
I heard them playing as I hear them now
at this seafront cafe. I am alone
because I know no one sitting here
but I am not alone. Four years after
Menuhin and Shankar spun on our turntable
a Stanford University student on my paper route
gave me Paul Butterfield’s East/West instead
of ponying up his monthly bill. Another time
he paid me off with Nixon and Agnew puppets.
Here, he said, pulling a pair out of a bag full of them,
Everyone is going to dig these. I don’t remember
his face really—dark beard and glasses perhaps?--
but the large schnauzes and beady eyes on the puppets
are clear. And I have East/West with me in Istanbul.
Investing in curiosity pays—unless someone thinks
you work for the C.I.A. Many did when I came to Turkey.
Why do you want to know? There must be a reason.
I told them to sign me up: it pays much better than
teaching English to junior high and high school kids.
And better hours! Ha ha ha we’d all laugh. That’s
a good one. I haven’t seen Melek in two years, but she
must be a young woman now, tall and lanky like her father.
I was also here in Assos eleven years ago with Meral.
She returns like ash after the letters have been burned--
a ghost from The Tale of Genji, our getaway spoiled
by a Laz gangster. He seemed friendly and bored,
bantering about old Yorgo on Lesbos, drinking rakı
while waiting for contraband. Then he became mean
during dinner (guess we didn’t show him r-e-s-p-e-c-t).
His genial bodyguard tried to break the tension by singing
eski dostlar, eski dostlar—old best friends, old best friends--
to the restaurant’s scratchy sound system. The next day
in the light he looked the thug he was.
Meral also used to ask if I worked for the C.I.A.
Trust is cross-cultural issue and now
she’s married and lives in Copenhagen.
HEY JEFF! I turned and looked and didn’t
recognize Zeynep till I was in front of her.
I hadn’t seen her in eight years.
I went to her campsite for tea and to meet her lover.
She told me of her sister in Germany. Her husband was working
in Rize in the eastern Black Sea when they met. They
had to concoct all sorts of stratagems--
he being non-Muslim, non-Turkish, she the daughter
of a prominent family. They are still married with children.
Meral’s baby recently died of crib death.
What a terrible shock. In her first attempt
the fetus had Down’s Syndrome and now this. I tell Zeynep,
Şirin and I tried to have a baby but it didn’t happen,
which seemed such a small, sad piece to play
next to a baby’s death. Just a way to commiserate?
Perhaps. I wish I had a box of small, black stones
polished by a river to grind together
in my hands to feel how that hard lump now sitting
inside Meral must sound and feel. Then a year later
I discovered she has a healthy daughter! Excellent!
Zeynep was happy for Şirin and my life together
and apart—she’s in Istanbul working, and I’m here
in Assos, with the sun coming through
the thatch, scattering light in the shape of leaves on
my legs. We are drinking tea, chatting,
playing backgammon or staring at the sea.
I am taking notes and just met
Jimmy and Anna, friends of Danny and Suzy.
One evening Jimmy played a song by John Martyn
I knew and loved and sang
and soon we were rocking the restaurant,
joking about the perineum, that place
the pendulum swings between the periwinkle
of the pooper and the pudendum, (or your penis
as the case might be). Praise be for the popping of Ps
and our childish discoveries—the boys later played
the games of stones-by-the-sea: one tossed in the air while
the others tried to hit it—an exercise in futility.
I am also willing to revert to adulthood: Photos
of Daniel and Suzy in the pool—a little roughhousing
then Danny, hair plastered across his eyes but so obviously
looking at Suzy’s, holds her gently under her breasts. All
for the sake of Mister Bones. John Berryman’s love songs
are hits which keep coming but I do not fear
boredom. It is a silent kingdom and I’m a fool
of scattershot songs, chaos and ambient noise
like the chatter of birds. The birder from Nantes
found his species with the yellow throat that’s only exists
here and on Lesbos through its distinctive call.
In the ruins near the stoa about to faint from heat
I met Pieter Achorn, recently of Glasgow, retired professor
of geology. In Turkish he said, how are you?
Confused, I replied in Turkish, I’m fine, and you?
Fine, it’s hot. Are you Turkish?
American. And you?
Scottish. Do you know English?
American. Do you know American?
We discussed the local andesite and he showed me
his lichen samples. I told him I recently learned thistles
are members of the daisy family. A gam, a gulp
of water and good-bye. He headed down
to the sea while I continued to the citadel.
Then to the tea garden by the mosque in the center of Behramkale.
The village idiot was in charge of collecting parking money.
He was very short, thin, and had a face straight
out of Central Asia with a wisp of whiskers--
I tried to speak to him but he didn’t make much sense.
Perhaps it was just my broken Turkish. He nodded
very sweetly and ran off to collect money as a Volvo drove up.
I love the way villages make a place for everyone.
Storms clouded the first few days, but just like that
high summer. Bless the wind when it’s warm like this.
I am alone because I know no one sitting here, but we
are drinking tea, chatting, looking out
over the landscape, or in my case reading—The Leopard
by Lampedusa. Sicily seems very close, the fall
of nobility omnipresent. It always is and I suppose it should be.
What’s remains is also noble, the way
locals use square-cut stone from ancient Greek walls
to square up the corners of their homes.
I’m glad to be writing in the shade near a breakwater
in a country foreign and familiar. Around me
people are rolling dice. The water is as turquoise
as the sea in your average tourism poster.
For good luck I threw water on the car that Jimmy and Anna
drove away in. The owner of the pension did the same
when Richard, Melek, Andrew and I left.
Sirin and I came with Andrew and Tracy when
their daughter Sophia still had her deformed foot.
It has been amputated. Last time we visited
she balanced perfectly on a redwood railroad tie--
with a rubber foot! It gave me such hope.
We’ll see them in August but now its July.
Light falls on my legs. I am alone because I know
no one sitting here. We
are drinking tea, chatting, or playing backgammon.
I am taking notes. Will I meet someone I know today,
or someone I will know in passing like Pieter Achorn,
or no one in particular—just a bit of politesse
to pass on to strangers, notable only because I
am a foreigner. So many people like Hakkı or Bruce
have been left out but at last they fit here.
Just inland from Assos are wonderful oak forests.
It seems that Pieter Achorn should have been
interested in oaks, but he loved lichen and andesite.