taken with Pentax K10D, at Istanbul
THE SAGA OF ISTANBUL
Say Istanbul and a seagull comes to mind
Half silver and half foam, half fish and half bird.
Say Istanbul and a fable comes to mind
The old wives’ tale that we have all heard.
Say Istanbul and a mighty steamship comes to mind
Whose songs are sung in the mud-baked huts of Anatolia:
Milk flows from her taps, roses bloom on her masts;
In the dreams of my childhood in Anatolia’s mud-baked huts
I’d sail on her to Istanbul and back.
Say Istanbul and mottled grapes come to mind
With three candles burning bright on the basket –
Suddenly along comes a girl so ruthlessly female
So lovely to look at that you gasp
Her lips ripe with grape honey
A girl luscious and lustful from top to toe –
Southern wind and willow branch and the dance of joy –
As the song goes, ‘Like a ship at sea
My heart is tossed and wrecked again.’
Say Istanbul and the Grand Bazaar comes to mind:
Beethoven’s Ninth hand in hand with the Algerian March;
And an immaculate bridal bedroom set
Is auctioned off without the bride and groom.
A shabby lute inlaid with mother of pearl
Recalls the famous lutanist on old records.
Brandish candlesticks and hookahs and rusty Persian swords –
American sailors wear lily-white uniforms
Plucked from a huge daisy, clear as milk, clean as a cloud;
Death looks ugly on so pure a white
But when they fight
They put their combat uniforms on –
Color of blood and gunpowder and smoke –
Which gather hate but no dirt.
Say Istanbul and huge fisheries come to mind
Stretched like a rusty cobweb over the Bosphorus
Or sprawling off the Marmara coast.
Forty tunnies roll in the fishery like forty millstones.
The tunny after all is the shah of the sea –
You shoot it in the eye with a rifle and fell it like a tree
Then suddenly the face of the fishery gets bloodshot
The emerald waters are muddied in the turmoil.
With forty tunnies at a clip, the skipper is spellbound for joy.
A seagull perched on the mast catches a mackerel in
mid-air and gobbles it
Then it flies away without waiting for one more;
The fisherman smiles kindly:
‘That gull’s Marika,’ he says
‘That’s the way she comes and goes, always.’
Say Istanbul and the Princes’ Islands come to mind
Where the French language is murdered
By sixtyish matrons very pleased with themselves.
If the pine trees in lonely places had a tongue
What tales they’d have to tell!
Say Istanbul and towers come to mind:
If I paint one, the others are jealous.
Leander’s Tower ought to know better:
She should marry the Galata Tower and breed little towerlets.
Say Istanbul and a waterfront comes to mind:
Anatolia’s poor forsaken huddled masses land
In its coffee houses day after day.
Some must beg to survive but shame keeps them away;
Some manage a broom and sweep the streets
Their faces smeared with a filthy fusty grin;
Others shoulder a pannier or an ornate back saddle
And they get lost in the city’s hubbub and fiddle-faddle.
Tied to a greasy girth, some carry a piano on their backs
Their legs wobbly under the weight, melting like wax
They pant and heave, drenched in sweat.
A gentle porter is a must for a fragile item.
Do tender hands value a piano the way the porter does?
Suddenly a mushy song blares on the radio across the street:
The most popular crooner of them all
His voice smudged with the greasy perfumes of Arabia:
‘Life is lull of joys and sorrows
They come and go.’
Say Istanbul and a stadium comes to mind
Where twenty-five thousand voices under the sun
Sing our national anthem in unison
And the clouds are fired like cannonballs.
I melt in the sunlight of the crowds
I rejoice in their song
I would pluck my heart like a poppy for them, should they ask.
…Say Istanbul and Yahya Kemal once came to mind;
Nowadays it’s Orhan Veli whose name is on the tip of
His flair and flamboyance, his poems and his face
Hover overhead like a wounded pigeon
Which descends quietly to perch on this poem.
…Say Istanbul and Sait Faik comes to mind:
Pebbles twitter on the shore of Burgaz Island
While a blue-eyed boy grows up in circles of joy
A blue-eyed old fisherman grows younger and tinier
When they reach the same height they turn into Sait
And they roam the city hand in hand
Cursing beast and bird, friend and foe alike;
On Sharp Island they gather gulls’ eggs
By midnight they’re in the red light district
In the morning they go through Galata;
At the café they tease a harmless lunatic
‘Hey, Hasan,’ they say, ‘you’re holding your paper upside down.’
They set the poor chap’s newspaper on fire
Then they sit and weep quietly.
…The blue-eyed boy doesn’t give a damn
But the old fisherman broods like hell;
And a green venom bursts out of the sea
Piercing the heart that feels, ravaging the mind that knows.
The little blue-eyed boy
And the old fisherman
And that green venom smeared all over our lips…
So long as Istanbul throbs alive in the sea
So long as language lives, so will Sait’s poetry.
Say Istanbul and a gipsy woman comes to mind
With a bunch of flowers taller than herself
Wherever the spring comes from, so does she.
She is the sun and the soil from top to toe
And a mother matchless among mothers:
One child on her back, one at her breast, one in her belly.
Devil may care, her life has flair:
She roams the city from one end to the other
She is humble, she sells tongs, she bellydances,
‘What about two bob, dear?’ she says
‘You want me to tell your fortune, love?’
Till the day she dies, she tells nothing but lies.
She tells you the dream she had the night before:
‘I see a yellow snake, son-of-a-bitch keeps pestering me
I wake up and what do I see?
My little ones are on the edge of the bed sucking my toes.’
Say Istanbul and a textile factory comes to mind:
High walls, long counters, tall stoves…
Tender slender girls toil all day long on their feet
Sweating blood and tears
Their faces long their hands long their days long
In the factory the windows are near the ceiling
Red-heeled fair-skinned girls – ‘No loitering, girls!’
Out there the trees stretch row on row
Walls walls endless walls
Why do you cut us off from the trees
From the amber fields and the purple streets
Where the fair season rumbles and tumbles.
A nineteen-year-old working mother
Is dazzled by the white foamy flow of silk.
But printed silk is no good for nappies
Now if she could get a roll of ivory-white calico
She could do so much with it: curtains, sheets, underwear.
The thought of ivory-white calico makes her eyes sparkle.
When she dies giving birth to a third son
She is still longing for a roll of calico.
Young mothers like her are sixpence a dozen
At the factory somebody else takes her place
That’s the way it is: If one goes, another comes.
Azrael, may you get your just reward.
Say Istanbul and a barge comes to mind
Loaded with onions, painted poison-green on coral-red
Sailing in from the Black Sea ports winter and summer
With one more patch on its filthy sail each time
And the rust of its iron rods on our tongue
Its motors speeding along our pulse beat into our hearts
A mermaid with huge scale-covered buttocks.
Say Istanbul and barges come to mind
Humble wanderers on the high seas
With names like The Sea Tiger or The Triumphant Sword.
Say Istanbul and Sinan the Great Architect comes to mind
His ten fingers soaring like mighty plane trees
On the skyline
Then row upon row of shacks and shanties
Where smoke filth and blight ruthlessly spread.
Our city suckles dwarfs at her giant’s breasts.
Bedri Rahmi Eyuboglu, (Istanbul Destani, 1974 )
translated by Talat Sait Halman