Alev Adil was born in Cyprus and has lived in Cyprus, Turkey and Libya. She now lives in London where she is Head of the Department of Communication and Creative Arts at the University of Greenwich.
Her first collection of poetry Venus Infers was published in 2004. Her poetry has appeared in literary magazines including Agenda, Brand, Mantis and Body Politic and in anthologies including Hungry for You ed. Joan Smith, Stepmother Tongue ed. Mehmet Yashin and Cypriot Identities ed. Karin B. Costello.
Her film-poems Hotel Amnesia and Dead Zone were screened in group shows at the PM Gallery and the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in London in 2008. She has performed her poetry at a number of venues in London including the Hampstead Theatre, the Shaw Theatre, The Poetry Cafe and the Jazz Café. She has also performed at poetry festivals in the UK, Turkey, Lithuania, Cyprus and the Cuirt Literary Festival in Galway, Ireland.
Her poetry, digital art practice and academic research engage with digital environments, diasporal identities and the interstices of private and political memory. She has been widely published in international academic journals in the UK, US, Australia, Sweden and Cyprus. She has been invited to give conference papers, act as keynote presenter and visiting professor in Australia, the US, India, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Trinidad and Sweden.
Alev has also reviewed fiction for The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Independent.
Last night I dreamt
I kissed you in a way
that I’m not allowed to.
You disappeared: not by magic
but by geometry,
through the silver brown bones
of an olive tree.
Your outstretched hand
held an orange carelessly
dropped it in my lap.
Let the sun set
into Girne’s bloody sea.
Your eyes further darkened
lost in a landscape of nostalgia.
If not my birthplace
then my memory
is an occupied country.
I have no home but now.
There must be no looking back.
Last night I dreamt we kissed.
The salty taste said,
“Eurydice, the Mediterranean could take you,
throw you to the other shore
the carcass of a cuttlefish.”
Don’t look back.
Waking exiles us
all over again.
The Reminiscences of a Statue Underwater
I was once flesh and blood
sat on a coloured shore
I ate my days as pomegranate seeds
until I had no more.
Scylla and Charybdis
one on the beach one out at sea
chilled my heart to stone
and made a statue out of me.
Neptune found me at dusk
as he patrolled the beach
he held my broken fingers
and led me where only death can reach.
He picks his teeth with soldiers’ bones
he has sea water for eyes
he breathes out small minnows
and his tears are plankton when he cries.
Now I am bleached white by the sea
but my lips are still brilliant red
from blood and pomegranate juice
from all the things I should have said.
I miss the sunlight on my face
here in the cold echo of lost voices
the living are always so sure
whilst I lie in the debris of their choices.
I have no need of love or forgiveness
not even for your warm fingers to stroke my head
but I know one day you’ll have to come
come dance with your darling dead.
I am not whole
but parts of me have been
torn up and left behind.
No, not my heart
much more – my tongue.
The rest? The rest I offer you.
Draw up your chair
at the dinner table of my betrayal.
The city walls of my memory
encircle coiled back streets
where stray boys sold garlands of jasmine
at my childhood’s coronation.
And evening would reveal
the palm tree jeweled with stars.
Now I am deposed
and a shroud of heat has shrunk
those places, and its people too.
I cannot understand
how I am supposed to be.
I have lost even the idea
of my physiology.
Don’t prod my wounds
don’t peel away the skin of afternoon
that sleepy calm caresses me.
Your science reinvents me,
you make a woman out of
the monster I was proud to be.
It is all so much false history
our remembering has no eyes
or potato like grows them in the dark.
Forgotten songs suffuse us:
mimosa bleeding scent into the night air.
We are not whole
bits of us torn off
and left behind.
Heartless, gutless, soulless
bastards all of us.
She wakes up from her siesta too late.
It’s already dark but she does not turn
the light on.
Her lipstick tastes of cherries.
her kisses promise
the heavenly newness of expensive dollies.
She used to love to chew their faces,
not out of spite but out of love.
A one eyed cat ambles down the narrow street,
the old women are going indoors,
taking their chairs from the doorways,
their early evening surveillance is over.
In the distance the headlights of cars dance
as their claxons announce themselves
and the end of the day.
The ice has melted in the whiskey.
A silt of face powder covers the dressing table.
Well? Are you satisfied now? Now that you have tracked her down to
this crumbling war torn port in a third floor apartment in the old part
of town. This is a dead end and you know it. She evades your attempts
at narrative coherence. You won’t make a story out of her. She’s no fool.
She’d only lose by it, she knows that. The night is smudging her, erasing
her with charcoal softness.
all you can see now
are her white bra and her reflection
which flashes momentarily
courtesy of the headlights
as she reapplies the melting lipstick
that makes her taste of her devoured childhood.
When I was a child there was lots of sex; and car crashes.
I heard them talking when I was supposed to be asleep.
Their voices and the tinkling jazz of ice.
Their conversations and the fug of their cigarette smoke
would drift to the shadowy shores of my room.
Straight through the windscreen
on the mountain roads;
suicides, fur coats, sunglasses,
poker, Rothmans, spies.
They used to play cards after I had gone to bed.
Some with passion and intensity,
others with the grim determination
of prisoners doing time.
rumours of war.
Adults swathed in scent and smoke,
gorgeous with boredom
and the fatalism of wasted lives.
Green lines, international law,
the incipient wrinkles,
the writing on their foreheads
always spelt out the past and future tense
About our Mother…
About our mother:
they made her a prophetess
because she was so ugly
no human could bear to see her
so they left her as a baby
up on the top of the mountain
in a granite shack
hardly worthy of the title “temple”.
Only the gods and the vultures know
the exact nature of the angels and demons,
their identity and whether they seduced
or raped her. Or both.
She gave birth squatting across
Prophetesses mustn’t have children
they are mother to the future
to all and to none.
So she had to kill her own.
The dark haired girl slipped out
and fell through the grain of dawn,
hung for a moment.
Mother wrenched the umbilical cord
and threw it after her
like a streamer, a red ribbon
heralding good fortune.
When she got back to the temple
she found that it was not all over.
There was a second child
who had clung on.
She loved me for my tenacity
and told her supplicants
that the eagles had brought me.
I was taken away and adopted.
No one ever knew about my dead sister,
my terrible twin.
Until she murdered my mother
and left this message for me
written in my blood.
In Bars Late at Night
In bars late at night
I have heard my dead sister singing for me.
Stubbing out that one cigarette too many,
that leaves me not merely drunk
but dyspeptic, in sticky red lipstick,
I can’t stop looking for secret messages
in graffiti and hotel room bibles.
And I swear, I swear I don’t know
what I’m guilty of
although innocence is out of the question.
The long past is the never happened
and the just gone is irretrievably lost.
A harvest of thistles
a dinner of herbs.
“It feels like there’s a warrant out for my arrest
that’s why I’m always on the run
why I changed my name
and I didn’t think you’d ever find me here.”1
My dead sister speaks through the lips of strangers,
sometimes in other tongues.
ruyalarim ruhsuz bir col’de danseder,
meftun ama melal bu uzun geceler.
Kaderin bir kadife kafes,
bense damarlarinda bir fisilti,
kaninda esrar : olu kardesin.2
She says that I’ve only just missed her
or did not recognise her.
So I search for clues,
in myself, on trains, in telephone booths.
Although in my heart I know
I am the criminal whom I so desperately seek to unmask.
There are others with blood on their hands
but we can only wash our own.
1 Lyrics from Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine
2 Turkish poem by the author, which translates as:
My dreams dance in a soulless desert,
these long nights are captivating but tedious,
this velvet cage is your fate,
and I am a whisper in your veins,
a drug in your blood: your dead sister.
Refugee Memories: Baggage
Do you still wake up in the night
and start listing what you’d take
if you had to leave
all over again
and start again?
The refugee rule:
one suitcase per single person,
two per family.
Will it be your notebooks,
Which of your favourite shoes?
The good winter coat, surely.
Perhaps one of the Persian carpets
– then nothing else at all.
What would you rescue?
Does it still wake you,
the contradiction between your siege
mentality hoarding everything
against sudden shortages,
old candle stubs even
because they could suddenly cut off
and the refugee sense
that you can only truly own
one suitcase full of stuff.
The rest is contingent.
It isn’t really yours.
The rest will have to be left behind.
The Pharaoh’s Daughter at Caunos
On reflection: the waxing moon recalls
her gaze upon the iron dark delta.
Silt or blood flows through fat glossy rushes
when the waters flood.
The pink cliffs are carved with tombs
that men have died building for the royal dead.
They have bequeathed a rich silence,
the ambiguous freedom of namelessness
that the woman climbs to claim.
She is too full of names. She wants to abdicate.
The reeds whisper the soft insistence of a love letter,
while the wind wails willfully of loneliness.
“Moses, you were my baby then,
I had not read the writing
written on the wall
– my father’s, then your father’s,
somebody’s father’s handwriting
above the door,
a curse, a destiny,
never of your choosing,
people are just chosen is all.
I thought I was the Pharaoh’s daughter
who caught in the bright fast slipstream
a small fat hope of new beginnings.
Oh Moses, how I loved you hon,
little plump chicken in a basket.
I loved to hold you in my eyes,
fall into that stare so long
where there was no need nor possibility of disguise.
Well later of course, it turned sour,
it always does, perhaps, sweet water into whine.
You saw Medusa, you railed in righteous anger.
You commanded new tides,
you stumbled down the mountain
carrying our two petrified hearts in your arms.
And Moses baby, you forgot me and my foreign name.
You turned your heart to rocky interdictions
forgetting the truth in fiction,
(oh the stories I whispered to you,
and the river too),
forgetting the melting brownness of my bovine gaze,
the lush pastures, the nursery slopes where you grazed.
Forget Medusa, forget even the Pharoah’s broody daughter,
I was your golden calf, your fatted calf.
Idol and sacrifice I was Ibrahim’s son
lamb of God, up for the slaughter.”
The waxing moon recalls
her gaze upon the iron dark delta.
Here in the plague blighted dwellings
ancient curses have carved out of the cliff face.
The candle flame flutters in a breeze that utters
his name. “Oh Mose hon sweetie pie
how I loved to hold you in my eyes.”
Old stories these, worn out thoughts.
My own reflection will do just as well I guess.
You are too cruel, too righteous to miss.
But the deceptive mirror calm
of the moonlit river is even colder to kiss.
His reflection is guilty
and golden spilling and spooling
on the filmy stillness of the pool
in a past more precious
because there were no photographs.
He could not tear himself away
from the devouring fist of his own gaze.
And it could have been death without fear
it could have been the baked clay
of an August Cypriot afternoon,
they come to the same thing,
like falling asleep in the snow.
Except that he was held back from this
by the witness of Echo
who would not tell her own story
but neither would she let him go.
The image was stranger then,
is stronger now, multiplies its abundance.
He would not be stilled and palled by it
because its individuality and contingency
would be rippled and dispersed
by repetition and reproduction.
Reflecting has become unthinking.
Our reflections are prolific now,
commonplace. They choke us,
crowds of our faces
in passing shop windows
in the rear view mirror
in bathrooms and in bars.
We no longer need to peer
hoping to see ourselves
as the soul gleaming in the burnished
depths of the beloved’s eyes.
We have mirrors for that, and photographs
with their glossy aggrandizing lies.
He did not dare to draw
a breath in case it dappled
the surface calm
or a leaf might rotate
and fall then flow
across his face leaving
ripples of colour in its wake.
It could have death without fear
or the baked clay of an August Cypriot afternoon,
like falling asleep in the snow.
A recurring dream, an echo,
that refuses to let go.
Diving from the boat into cool clear water,
divine azure assurance,
happiness welled out of the blue
so pure and terrible:
How can it ever be otherwise?
Why should it ever be otherwise?
I am the mermaid’s landlocked other.
At that moment (precious eternal moment)
I’d like to just swim
far from the boat,
past the embrace of the mountains
out into the horizon
swim from sky to sea.
At night I wait
for a call from the witch
willing to sell a wicked bitter gram
that turns my legs to a tail
my hope to wings.
Leave behind the dry land,
the ruins, slums and mansions of the past,
all the promises and ghost palaces of the future,
just swim beyond all that
just swim into the bliss
that comes out of the blue.
This is a dead place,
deserted, a war cursed space.
No ships are leaving from the harbour,
this is not a part of history any more.
The asphalt is cracked
where strong green fingers tear through the pavements.
The dusty streets wear bloody raiments,
such poppies, in their brief riot of Cypriot spring.
If only we could find Sleeping Beauty,
for this wasteland is haunted by unfulfilled treatises.
The rats survey the shopping parade.
This is not Troy, razed then remade.
Not Dresden, or Coventry,
although that city’s figure of speech is a literal reality.
Silent: such rich silence is our testimony.
The silence of Penelope on seeing Odysseus
her powers of recognition worn by waiting hopelessly,
and her lover, now decrepit deshabille and decayed.
Not the memory, it is the truth that is destined to fade.
His face overlaid by the prevaricating years,
fault lines marking the routes of his tears.
All the while she knits her pain
into coils of lianas that trail and train
across the vulgar concrete shells
of beach front hotels.
What are we ashamed of ?
This is the proof of whose betrayal ?
Why hide the place behind wire fences ?
We must face our lost chances.
Stand in those streets watching ghosts dancing
the wind keening its classical chorus
warning “don’t ignore us”
in a land where the chameleon is king,
the cockroaches the chosen race
who endlessly chant their triumphant hymn.
Theirs is an ancient order
when civilization loses
Try to figure out whether the lesson we need to learn
is how to remember
or how to forget.
Whichever it is, clearly we have not succeeded yet.
Penelope looked up into her husband’s eyes,
straight through him,
his face seemed only a disguise.
Straight through him to the other shore
not recognizing what she had spent decades waiting for.
Penelope could only see the past.
It was her present,
there could be no possibility of a future.
Was it worth waiting,
if this is what we waited for ?
ask the waves that lap the shore
Poetry in this post: © Alev Adil
Published with the permission of Alev Adil