03 December 2014


he sailed away unseen

I stayed on, as good a place as any.
They say this is a beautiful
Island, but I believe beauty is
Perceived only when one belongs.
I am merely passing through here,
Treading without purpose.
I travel an inalterable road,
Live within the indisputable familiar,
The hills and shoreline,
The incessant moaning of
Billows staggering landward.

The shock of his departure,
His enduring callousness,
They haunt me still.
Days of waiting
While  nothing happens,
Days spent in denial,
Somber days strung together
And the sleepless loneliness
Of night.
She took me in, she
Who became my mother-in-law,
Taught me how to listen again,
Hear the wind. 
The vessel moving wind.

Mornings, I’d wake to find
Milk sweetened with honey
On my nightstand.
The old woman
Would bring it in while I slept.
“So that you have a sweet day,”
She said when I asked.
“Goat’s milk?”
“Our goats,
With orange-blossom honey
From the mainland.”

I would take the cup,
Walk to the window and search.
Waves gently tapped the dock,
Boats brought in the day’s catch, 
Eager birds fought 
Over their share of fish guts. 
There was a partial view of
The market where I bought
His knife and a huge coil of rope.
I kept the knife with me
And had the rope sent.

At the table
I let him touch me,
Softly he began,
His fingertips
Meandering over
My back, my arms,
We smiling,
Biting lips,
Playfully, playfully.
His tongue strayed,
Colliding with mine
And I felt liberated,
A bird soaring, gliding.

I remembered the knife-

I watched the unrolling of 
The newspaper wrapping,
The gleam in his eyes
As he examined
The quality of the blade.

My body, all its skin
Was alert, flushed, waiting.

He didn’t let me share the aslan sütü:
“May I?  A small sip?”
He refused, my knowledge
Of his activities should be limited
He said, crossing his legs.
But my body, all its skin
Was alert, flushed, waiting,
My heartbeat danced rapidly,
Too rapidly to let me ask:
He wouldn’t have answered.

I love you, I love you,
I sing in the morning.
I spin and sing
I love you, I love you.
And the sweet milk spills
On my nightgown,
On the wooden planks,
On my bare legs.
I love you, I love you,
Oh, how I do!

It fills me up-
The love, its memories,
Sadness, my tears-
My chest is full
With a happy delirium. 
Eyes closed, I remember each
Shade and shift of daylight, starlight
We witnessed together-
I taste him, his saltiness.

“Your mother-in-law is angry,”
They whisper. 
The old woman had wagered on me.
To her dismay, my husband is making
Alternate plans: curly haired
Boys, such fetching young men
Pursue him.  He is rich, after all.
Together they drink, preen,
Disappear for hours-
Hard muscles, a few lines of blow.
Some I invite for coffee,
Thick and strong, şekerli, sade,
Whichever they prefer.
Then we read each other’s fortune:
“I see a long road, you’re going on a trip”
They’ll  say, showing me the markings
Crusted in the cup.
“I’ve never been off this island.”
“You should Madame, you should.”
My children blossomed,
Asked for my blessing and left-
Mother, mother, they called out
Waving farewell, my beloved children. 
These days, I disguise the meager
Remains of my household
Into figures resembling a family.

I was trained to become a fortuneteller,
Offer my life as service to my clan,
Stay pristine, protect their welfare,
Divine outcomes.  My gift as seer
Kept bad omens at bay,
People I advised prospered.
The day I asked him to love me,
Followed him as a hungry beggar
Follows the bread truck,
That day I knew I could never
Return to my homeland. 
I paid no attention
To the winds whipping my back
Didn’t listen to the thunder sounding
Its warning, didn’t heed the dust
Rising up to block my path. 

Outdoors we build a fire
So the old woman can
Sacrifice.  She lets the blood
Drip from the throat to find
Its way toward the flame. 
The goat takes long to die.
The cut is not clean and the blood
Sputters with irregular force.
The animal kicks then slowly grows still,
A soaked, wilted mass of fur.
“You were not born to be loved,”
She answers, reading the red
Markings crusted on the dirt-
“There was another purpose.”
“Does the sea love me, mother?”

She stares at me silently.
My mother-in-law will not lie at divining,
She knows the punishment for such a sin.
It’s now my turn, and I’m to study the land.
I turn the animal, still warm, almost
Alive.  I slice its gut, remove the liver,
Spread the intestines just so.
Carefully I read the viscera, then talk
About the fruit, the harvest, the taste
Of the olives and the oil, the flavour
And strength of the wine.  I count
The children that will be born and
Foretell whose breast will feed them.
There is more I can say, things
Clearly written in front of me,
Illuminated by the blazing fire.
Yet, she doesn’t ask about her son.

They’ve come from every village
To have their fortunes told.
Now, beneath the fullness of  
The moon, they form a giant circle
And celebrate.   
We bow to offer prayers,
We chop and distribute the meat.
The ritual is done. 
Slowly, the fire expires.
It is written.

Vines and bramble climb  
Slopes with swift assurance,
Navigate sharp angles with aplomb.
They reach the summit of this hill
From where I spy beyond the cliffs
Deep into a distance of aging
Memories and phantom ports.
I envision roads and towns,
Names of streams I’ve never seen.
My mind seeks with a cartographer’s
Precision, I gather strength, I nearly
Knock upon his door.   
On braver days he finds me hiding
From the sun and joins me there
On the bench, beneath the
Gnarly plane tree he loves.
This tender schemer, possessor of
My heart, how unchanged is his brow,
How still familiar his essence.  Between us
There’re no questions to be asked
Only a joining of hands,
Some easy, joyful chatter.  Leisurely
I stroke his forehead, his cheek,
We kiss, a lingering, delicate caress,
And then I cry, I cry hard,
Amid the bramble and the vines.

As I prepare to let go of my
Middle years and wait for
Evening to begin, I take stock:
I’ve labored on this island,
Rebelled against the life
I was ordained to live,
Was of some use,
Nurtured my children,
And once, just once,
Summoned greed enough
And courage to taste
The sweetest fruit of all.
I bit into its very core, drank
Its nectar, siren sweet,
Then fell, a ceaseless fall
Into the wrathful arms
Of the destiny I scorned.
How steep the price I paid!

Anything? What was the cost of this
For him?

After ambitions realized,
Adventures won or lost
As he strips off the day’s armor
And sits pensively at the hearth,
Are there any memories of me?
What is the bounty in his bed,
I wonder.  What difference?

There are none of us unburdened,
None of us entirely forgiven,
None of us completely beloved-
On his voyage, let him find  
Peaceful waters.
In front of me swells the sea
Dazzling yet ordinary:
Nothing exceptional in the light
Or the weather today.  Instead,
An everyday grace, and the whimsy
Of shorebirds foraging at water’s edge.

This then is belonging:
To my own solitary smallness,
The shrug of an ordinary day
The reveries, smooth as corn silk.
I’ve come to recognize
The bleakness creeping
In the world,
The futility of hope,
Wounds that are deep or shallow
Always painful,  
Loneliness, always cold,
Change, always impossible,
Always beyond reach. 

But thalatta, thalatta.
The sea will engulf
Everything in the end,
At the final gashing.
We will be united then-
On that late, lost hour
When all is summoned to merge,
To become one wound for aeons-
My long ago lover and I.