Poetry, English

Am I Far?

Am I far away to you? Not much
Bus plus ferry plus tram

Am I forbidden to you? Don’t exaggerate
Whenever I look in your eyes
The irreversibility of a recently dug tunnel

I am child to you, let it be
I like to be a nuisance when I’m with you

I am anxious to you, I know
I make a fuss sometimes, Miss

I am inclined to you, don’t move
Like one wave merging into another wave

I am night and day to you
The wicked fox of hesitation

I am wistful to you
We haven’t met each other too late, have we?

I am maybe trouble to you
Will you manage to start again from zero?

I am a blank white paper to you
The smell of a newly sharpened pencil

I am now to you
The enthusiasm of a watch that’s just been repaired

I am later to you, always to you, you to you

I am ‘let’s go’ to you
Are you sure?

I am a basic question put
To you

Trans. By Robyn Marsack

Am I Far? (a second translation)

Not much. Just a bus ferry tram
to you. Am I against your law? Don't lie

when I try to look to you
your irreversible eye stays

dark as an empty tunnel
the child in me wants

to re-fill. If I am a child
let me be a nuisance

while you sit I am anxious for you,
I know I make a fuss, Miss

if I lean to you, please
don't move. Let me be

a wave merging into another wave.
I am between you and night and day,

a lost fox hesitating
by the side of the road, wistful

but we met too late – didn't we?
I am trouble to you. Can we start

to count again from below zero?
Can we be blank and clean

as new paper, the smell
of a fresh, sharp pencil?

I will return
with the precise enthusiasm

of a repaired watch, later
but always to you,

to you I am the alarm
that says 'let's go'.

Are you ready?
I am a basic question

but the answer is not
too far.

Trans. by Ryan van Winckle

Beginning For Beginners

Once I begin climbing with someone
I never look down, I told you
look directly into my eyes,
they suit you. And you told me
lovers always get caught by leaving
their eye-prints behind.

Once you begin to get bored
of rules, neighbors phoning, false speeches
go ahead, shut the door, suit yourself.

Your heart is underage, can't ink
the deals, sign deeds, borrow money
from legitimate sources, tossing them
like confetti might suit you. I've been told
it is hard to talk
about old flames.
But I don't beat about the bush, see

torching also needs some talent
and you touch with the hands
of someone whose parachute
didn't open, you've spent your whole life
blocking the ground. Let the reporter say
it went down like this:

I didn't know what color the sea was
till I woke up beside you –  I was born
on the coast – saw sea for the first time.
Does it suit an honorable Gentlelady to shock
a boy his first day at the beach?

Like at backgammon, I've been beaten
“two reverse one flat”.
Whenever my heart is witnessed
I let it go. I read somewhere
all crimes of passion begin
with a set of snake eyes.
While I kept rolling blanks,
a woman suited to a red dress
was sashaying out
of the scene. I knew it was you,
recognized the color
of your defiance.

Once I begin
I never look back. You shouldn't.
Yet, you must miss me sometimes,
when it suits you, remember
our first date, when my eyes
cocked and smoked for you. Because I've been told
all lovers return to the murder scene. My dear, may I
have the pleasure of this crime?

Trans. by Ryan van Winckle


The terminal is useless
if we are not going to meet
our memories shouldering

cider and chips as they slide
from the ferry. Every morning
I iron memories of my old love,

straight, flat and pregnant
with childish questions
I dreamed then forgot.

I keep her photos ready, alien
on the blue bedspread as pirates
on a quiet blue lake,

like a crossword stuck
in the corner of my life
would she like to answer

my call for a third night with Nastenka?
All the facades in Baharive street are so clever
they know she still hides herself in brown cardigans

but I wonder why she won't go out
when there are no clouds
in her pockets.

When we finished our final tea
Istanbul quit repeating itself
and I took off my redundancies.

Reality can be softened
by daises, cut and waiting
in a vase I never bought

and just now
the first rain
of autumn begins.

Trans. by Ryan van Winckle

Verses in Surdibi*

The Buried History of Poverty

Why do I murmur these words?
Walking in Surdibi beneath the city walls
not whistling because I know
I’m getting older, and can only answer
loneliness with loneliness.

What a still-learning and impatient time it was
when the world was set in accordance with our steps.
Now, in this flood of compassion
we collide like flying clouds of dust –
scrap-yard apprentices scattered willy nilly
out in the crooked streets – that is all.

In Byzantium’s mossy walls,
on the tired windowsills of Topkapı
were there traces of our childhood,
of the mouldy histories of missing stonemasons
and fishermen, decorated with tales?

And here now sullen car-mechanics
hold the odour of history -
the raw truth of poverty and offer it
politely with their oily gloves
Remember it, I say remember
so you’ll be believed.

Why do I say this?
It’s by forgetting that we feed ourselves in savage streets
Because like the seasons of the year
we’ve lived through raids, migrations, invasions and salvations
and we’ll never again find the flower we left
long ago on this sultans’ grave
built upon the grave of another kingdom.

*Trans. by Georgina Özer, ed. by Raman Mundair

We’re Strangers Here, Dear Sir

He isn’t the kind that dies, he says,
Did I suggest the opposite
As I stood looking at his face?
But there’s no hiding around here, my dear Sir.
Doesn’t he know that in these streets
Death is present in the eyes of everyone?

He takes out a ledger or two with old writing –
‘His last will and testament’
I bend towards it, as if this will make things clearer.
We’ll hide, won’t we, my dear Sir?
We’ll hide as much as we can hide in this forsaken place.

Here, houses abandoned in every street
A thousand years of history summarized in architecture.  I wonder -
Does he love the years he has lived? Accept
the ones collapsed and gone. They say
wine still burns his throat – is it strange to celebrate that?
I am confronted with a sweet and sneaky fate.

It’s snowing hard outside, we line up all we have
Around a tin can made of fire
We’re not kids now. More’s the pity I think
‘The man’s glad about it, my dear Sir.’ Let’s hope
Blacks and sleepless Bulgarians don’t rush out
Let’s hope incomprehensible oaths don’t collide in the exhaust fumes
He couldn’t care less that he had died and was in the street
How it happened I don’t know. I was just the one he stopped to talk to there.

Now I’m a stranger in these parts – good thing, too,
That I’m a stranger to this shitty world of ours-
For it’ll set on fire the knots inside our heads
I talk of dreams I think are really great,
Limitless maps and so on – and even though
Maybe no-one’s listening, that’s just fine by me.

It’s snowing hard outside
And I keep rubbing that summary of history in my palm
I’m so afraid, what if no-one listens? Not a soul...

It’s snowing hard outside
‘But there’s no summary of life, my dear Sir’
This loneliness of fire
Will always find a tin can to burn in
To melt away the barbed wire it comes up against.

Two Children

How long is it since I was last in Surdibi,
Look, I’m still writing about those days and those kids
I was so envious of it all...

Even through the eyes of one, (on each side of which her hair,
A punishment, is gathered up in slides) do not
Deny her childhood, the mirror in them denies it all.
Now she pinches shoes with heels from cupboards,
Flees among the stalls, along the crooked streets
And in her lonely dead scared days and nights.
Just look at those days and nights
And the so-called innocence of childhood!
Hadn’t I said it suits girls to be naughty?
- But there are certain dreams you must forget. My girl
You are soiled, and so are they -
By the city’s skyscrapers and shop windows...

The other one in a black ship’s cabin
With black dreams and black words following him...
I wonder if I was dreaming the same when I was a child?
But you’ve got to forget this too my boy – this fine city
Of exhaust fumes and rain.

In this damnable world
Either we don’t like anything or else
We bite off more than we can chew;
Like loving them without forgiving them
Like changing them without hurting them…
It doesn’t work,
You’ve got to be a kid
With no experience and no mistakes.

It’s strange - if I stretch out my hand like the child inside of me
To the life loved from a distance.
But I must forget the page three cuttings ripped from papers
Pictures on faded bubble gum wrappers
And places I know on destination boards of buses...
Can’t this be done, my dear?
Can’t it be done?
Is there still a child inside of me
That I might run into
In those poor and ugly streets
That’s trying to blow up a ball,
And will it still be evening?

Go on, learn their names before your mother calls you.

I Must Come Again

he’s busy with a bike whose brakes are bust
but that kid in front of me can’t be from the childhood that I know

I must stop trying to learn lessons

from hands accustomed to iron and copper
in streets where we hung around on summer days

from the long hours he works
in this century where we hated working

from his incurious eyes
on everything we save from a decaying sky

from the darkness he drags round
like a low cloud he wants to get rid of

seeing that I don’t know how to love
I must leave them all behind and go

all those books about the working class
that I know by heart, and stop equating unrequited loves with revolutions

then afterwards, long afterwards
I must find that bike with busted brakes on the same hill.

In The Midst of Darkness

an old man and I are chatting
about things - he’s fed up with everything.
Leaning towards me, an elbow on the table
he says that life is simple if we get rid of assumptions

- earthquakes past and future in the papers
- A Chinese man covered himself from head to toe with his eyelids

- rivers burst their banks
- where is Burma? I’d like to know.

various statistics from the Tuzla shipyards,
a picture of a young man who didn’t know he was going to die
he’d been going to a tea garden in the evening
- where did the newsman get that bit of information I’d like to know...?

a mirror in the old man’s eyes
whispers of things in decades yet to come
when page three photos are full of my faces
and getting old is just a lie
things I have forgotten are like a knife
as soon as they are cut off -
what does it matter if no-one knows our honesty.

Me and My Toy Lightning Flashes

D’you think it didn’t happen, my dear friend?
I’ve told small lies and fibs, of course I have.
They’re like loose change here in my pockets
And of course I’ve told much bigger ones as well.

In the city of great dreams and great lies, let’s get this clear,
Everyone’s Istanbul belongs to them alone.
Mine belongs to several women
-no names, of course-
Full of all they have thrown out of other towns
Everybody’s days belong to them, dear friend
Just as everybody goes and lives their death themselves:

For the bus driver it’s the steel feathers
Of the Bosphorus Bridge that give him wings;
The Governor’s Office for the retired policeman;
The entrance door of a pistol pointed at his head;
The street I walk down of a morning is the middle
Of a handfull of pills for a woman who’s been left;
And the pavements of Surdibi are
The eyes of a homeless man who’s gazing into mine
You, like a god with his nose in air, pathetic and disguised -
Be sure to take a good look at the world!

Look at his Istanbul,
But you can’t touch it, just look
Like low-down angels; new observations
Write new verdicts in the margin in books of dreams
The Istanbul inside his overcoat – forbid that for a start–
A few banknotes hidden in a shoe – give that away.
He’s heard of Ayasophia – now talk about its architectural features –
But you and your toy lightning flashes -
All you can do is pass on to History what you’ve seen, all you can do
Is be dead scared of what you’ve seen, face the tree and count to ninety-nine

Look, there’s nothing at all in common between that guy and hope
But he loves this city more than anyone, smile
At the sun that will hit your face a moment later and
Maybe it’ll smile back at you.

But you don’t even know, do you? That
There’s a cloud covering the sun.
Now who’s going to be sorry for whom?
You for him
Or he for you, who knows?

An Excuse

broken bottles and that crutch of his around
I put myself in his place, knowing
that walking is happiness itself etcetera…

I know each child has unanswered questions, and
happy endings only exist in dust on windows at the back

but first of all, like the gulls circling around the city tip,
we must hunt with marble balls, one by one,
for things we in this neighbourhood know as fear
And then we must go and find that question

Oh for the sake of a thousand beavers! If we must die
then we must die together. Lets in any case -
isn’t that why I’m here?
but as the local train goes clattering on its way
I forget all I’ve learnt from the blackboard
of cracked walls we pass.
On arriving home it’s all gone from my head.

For the first thing we must remember is our dreams.
That waking up, etcetera, is happiness itself.
Then we must release the seagulls near the tip into the sea

The guy holds out his wine to me,
I must find a good excuse.

The Shoeshine Boy

business is slack, a laugh’s enough for me Boss
look, I’ve shined them for you like a dream

how many brothers do I have – well,
if we don’t count the fag-ends and the rubbish bins
in our cat-less neighbourhood....
but what you can’t count the is the faded star

I look hard – I’ll give him a mouthful and he won’t meet my blade
If he doesn’t look me in the eye and yeah, I’m still afraid, you bet I am

if you ask me, they’re  not regular guys, and listen up -
I’d like to shove a cuss-word in his belly and shoot off
you’re dead right, he’d beat me up and leave me here for dead -
but empty parks are full of hidey-holes for me

business is slack, Boss, a laugh’s enough for me,
and say hello to me when you’re asleep.

The Forgettable Death of Engin Çeber

A man is dead
I do not know him,
He is just another face in the morning paper
I stared at him for a second
And we shared a moment
One mask to another
His name a misprint
I realise later. When
Did life become a foreign word?

A man is dead
I didn’t even think about him
Let this be my crime
My share of the common ball of sins.

Let it lie,
A man is dead
Wind the violence like a clock
That ceremonial nothingness, the syrup of consolation
That cloud of forgetting,
Let the lie puppet my life
Let my heart pump this lie.
Let it flow in my veins
A man is dead
Let me hide the stench of death with autumn air
Let me walk in a country of lies
And let me include you in my blame.

We never knew who Engin Çeber was
He was born, he grew up and the details
of his death are reported in my morning paper:
when he was beaten up by the police on the street,
at the police station in İstinye;
in a cell at the Metris prison,
just before he lost consciousness in a hospital.
He was all alone

And I am sure he was not afraid of death,
but rather of the not being understood
This alone closed the sleepless nights of revolution on his eyes
And his adventure in history
Was left incomplete.
This loneliness is not his, but ours
His heart’s desire is not his, but our

If I could just hear the last beat of his heart
Touch the last object he looked at, know his last words
Or when he last laughed – if I could know these things.
Your friends say that you liked to laugh, that you never took
Your hat off but in your prison photo your head is bare.
I wonder about you. I want to know you. For instance,
what did you think of last? Were you thinking of your past lovers?
Your friends tell me you were cheerful
I didn’t know you but your picture makes me wonder -
Did you really love life so much?

You left us and became a single face in the morning
paper. You left us in the gap between sorrow and curses.
A man is dead
I did not know him,
I stared at him for a second
And we shared the same moment.
In a moment I will take a hat from my wardrobe
and I will wonder – ‘Is it something you would wear?’

Trans. by Raman Mundair

Looking at You

Upturning the turtle, little girl runs away
For the first time, turtle sees sky

Trans. by Raman Mundair

The Kid 

innovators, nobel addicts, bespectacled faces...
which of you could have invented walking? 

Trans. by Neslihan Akkar

Lost Word in the Middle East

An old man
leans on the window, taming his pain.
his clothes packed already, does he have anything else except his memories?
When he was pressing the grapes of the ten thousand year old wine 
There were no tanks – none at all.

A kid
has left his tyre at home today,
narrowing his eyes at the edge of the river Tigris, he daydreams,
he will learn to swim to go after balls bouncing off the minefield junk.
But we don’t know the rest of the games
passing from mountain to mountain.

The pages of the atlas are yellowing,
in the best prophet school in history
nobody sits on their threshold anymore, why?
A tower was built in Babylon just to break the silence,
haven’t we anything more to say since the Sumerians?

A dessert chef in Armenia listens to Antep instead of a fairy tale;
Miniatures of Bursa mingle with the ones of Tabriz.
Cold gets inside Damascus through the walls of Felluce.
The ports of the Black Sea hide the Moorish pirates.
The water Arabia lacks bursts out of the rivers in the north.

Sometimes, a bomb falling in the south of Beirut
might not be heard two blocks away,
but still, a greeting can bind the continents
separated since the Ice Age.

Trans. by Merve Tezcanlar

Lost Word in the Middle East

As the sun gallivants in Gaza no matter what happens
Shadows grow longer and longer over decades
While life always walks a few steps behind, shyly.

An old woman, with one last black lock of hair
tired of waiting
It's a long time since the guestroom was opened
Speaks as if for the first time but to whom 

People in the photos wear out as she dusts them
Tired of making up a tidy bed everyday

Rain pouring on Tel Aviv will soon fall in her garden
Since between Palestine and the sky
Nobody can
Build a wall 

Then again, tired of waiting

Trans. by Merve Tezcanlar

Missing Piece

Who has chosen the furniture of our lives?
Let’s kick it all out,
Your body is enough to furnish a house.

Only the trees of Istanbul
Barged in on our kissing.
We don’t have a photograph together
Nobody sees us
Let’s look at each other...

Later on, I tried to slip you into the old photos
But you were the endless remainder
In a division problem

No city is far away from another,
A few millimeters on the world map, so what
Let the one whose sun rises first wake the other up

I kissed you once
It still remains
You are a horizon line, but only at my lips…
Searching for the missing piece in your life
Is it me?

Trans. by Gökçenur Ç.