Ken Fifer‘s poetry collections include Architectural Conditions (2012, with architect Larry Mitnick), After Fire, Water Presents, The Moss That Rides on the Back of the Rock and Falling Man. Ken Fifer has edited three anthologies of poems by children. His poems have appeared in many American and international journals, including Barrow Street, New Letters, and Ploughshares.
His translations of contemporary Turkish poetry (with Nesrin Eruysal) have appeared in The Wolf (UK), Söyleşi Üç Aylık Şiir Dergisi (Turkey), The Literary Review (USA), and other magazines, including Mediterranean Poetry.
Ken Fifer has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from The University of Michigan and is a Professor of English at Penn State University, Berks campus. He lives with his wife Elizabeth in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.
for Nesrin Eruysal
What to say about those gatherings
in the basements of a thousand chicken
restaurants where groups of shy Turks,
you among them, defend the return of cumin
and whisper the ascent of thyme.
Last night I saw a dog shot in the market
dragged out of an ornate fountain
where it had splashed and growled,
showing off its jaws all week long.
Today I’m just a tourist in the wrong city,
full of shoppers and traffic circles and squares
draped with dried intestines. In Turkey
I am famous for my misunderstanding.
So it’s only prudent for you to advise me
what I should say once I get home.
Try, like a Turk, to follow your nose.
Tell them we’re not barbarians.
Tell them we’re not Saudi Arabia.
Put away your big white American teeth.
I’m looking at a picture of my friend Nesrin
sitting outside in the bright Turkish light.
In her new and elaborate feathered hat,
she looks both flighty and burdened at once.
Back when the great Ataturk lived,
he banned the fez and remade the state.
Nesrin’s grandmother woke up one day
illiterate in a completely new alphabet.
Her grandfather found himself pulled
all the way into another continent
by his suddenly illegal beard.
But there is no one in all of Turkey
who can legislate a proper hat.
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All poems on this post: © Ken Fifer
Published with the permission of Ken Fifer