Jeffrey Kahrs is the author of One Hook at a Time: A History of the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union of the Pacific (Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union, 2015), funded through a grant from 4Culture, the cultural funding agency for King County, Wash. Kahrs co-edited an issue of the Atlanta Review on poetry in Turkey (Spring/Summer 2006, Volume XII, Issue Number 2), and also co-edited a section of the Turkish translation magazine Çevirmenin Notu on English-language poets in Istanbul in 2011. His writing has appeared in Talisman, Sky Island Journal, What Rough Beast, Subtropics and other journals. He has also published non-fiction in Bosphorus Review of Books, Heavy Feather Review, PN Review, Talisman and Tikkun. Kahrs was a 2012 winner of the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Contest. He has co-translated notable Turkish poets like Gülten Akın, Beçhet Necatıgil, Bekir Dadır and others. He holds a BA in Dramatic Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MA from Boston University. He lived in Istanbul for 18 years.
A tomb with a hand carved
above a dark entrance,
a trace of crimson along
the edge of the fingers.
The crypt empty—of course.
What do bones matter
when relics become artifacts?
So it seemed natural the steps
up the cliff led nowhere
but from there a view
of purple veins climbing my legs
like vines, rising to my heart
the rock set in earthen tones—
tanned skin, sandstone.
And a jay on the brush,
head turning, observant,
flying off as rain falls.
A Notebook is a Garden of Names
This tea garden by the sea is just right:
a warm breeze, sunglasses to dull the glare,
and sun falling through the thatch,
mottling my legs with leaf-shaped light.
I know no one sitting here. They
are drinking tea, chatting, playing backgammon, or looking
at the fishing boats and calm harbor water.
I am taking notes. I stop, stare at the hot reflection
coming off the water. I am not alone.
Andrew and I are taking a dip offshore,
Floating around and talking—about what
I have no idea. We are heading back to the beach
after swimming to the end of the breakwater.
Seven years ago. It’s July and that was
September. Richard and his daughter Melek
were sitting in the tea house when we came ashore.
He’s in Oslo now for a concert, playing a fusion
of East and West. I hope it goes well!
Mom brought Menuhin Meets Shankar home
when I was eleven. I was stunned
but not by the exotic. There were many things
I had not heard and there is always more.
Notes spiraled up and down. I was awash
in the unfamiliar rasas, one virtuoso leading
then following, Alla Rakha’s tabla grounding
their flights of fancy. Years later when looking
at Blake, who I believe is the greatest illustrator of fire,
I heard them playing as I hear them now
at this seafront cafe. I am alone
because I know no one sitting here
but I am not alone. Four years after
Menuhin and Shankar spun on our turntable
a Stanford University student on my paper route
gave me Paul Butterfield’s East/West instead
of ponying up his monthly bill. Another time
he paid me off with Nixon and Agnew puppets.
Here, he said, pulling a pair out of a bag full of them,
Everyone is going to dig these. I don’t remember
his face really—dark beard and glasses perhaps?—
but the large schnauzes and beady eyes on the puppets
are clear. And I have East/West with me in Istanbul.
Investing in curiosity pays—unless someone thinks
you work for the C.I.A. Many did when I came to Turkey.
Why do you want to know? There must be a reason.
I told them to sign me up: it pays much better than
teaching English to junior high and high school kids.
And better hours! Ha ha ha, that’s a good one.
I haven’t seen Melek in two years, but she must be
a young woman now, tall and lanky like her father.
I was also here in Assos eleven years ago with Meral.
She returns like ash after the letters have been burned—
a ghost from The Tale of Genji, our getaway spoiled
by a Laz gangster. He seemed friendly and bored,
bantering about old Yorgo on Lesbos, drinking rakı
while waiting for contraband. Then he became mean
during dinner (guess we didn’t show him r-e-s-p-e-c-t).
His genial bodyguard tried to break the tension by singing
eski dostlar, eski dostlar—old best friends, old best friends—
to the restaurant’s scratchy sound system. The next day
in the light he looked the thug he was.
Meral also used to ask if I worked for the C.I.A.
Trust is cross-cultural issue and now
she’s married and lives in Copenhagen.
HEY JEFF! I turned and looked and didn’t
recognize Zeynep till I was in front of her—
it’s seven years since I’ve seen her.
She told me of her sister in Germany. Her husband was working
in Rize in the eastern Black Sea when they met. They
had to concoct all sorts of stratagems—
he being non-Muslim, non-Turkish, she the daughter
of a prominent family. They are still married with children.
Meral’s baby recently died of crib death.
What a terrible shock. In her first attempt
the fetus had Down’s Syndrome and now this. I tell Zeynep
Şirin and I tried to have a baby but it didn’t happen,
which seemed such a small, sad piece to play
next to a baby’s death. Just a way to commiserate?
Perhaps. I wish I had a box of small, black stones
polished by a river to grind together
in my hands to feel how that hard lump now sitting
inside Meral must sound and feel. Then a year later
I discovered she has a healthy daughter! Excellent!
Zeynep was happy for Şirin and my life together
and apart—she’s in Istanbul working, and I’m here
in Assos, with the sun coming through
the thatch, scattering light in the shape of leaves on
my legs. We are drinking tea, chatting,
playing backgammon or staring at the sea.
I am taking notes and just met
Jimmy and Anna, friends of Danny and Suzy.
One evening Jimmy played a song by John Martyn
I knew and loved and sang
and soon we were rocking the restaurant,
joking about the perineum, that place
the pendulum swings between the periwinkle
of the pooper and the pudendum, (or your penis
as the case might be). Praise be for the popping of Ps
and our childish discoveries—the boys later played
the games of stones-by-the-sea: one tossed in the air while
the others tried to hit it—an exercise in futility.
I am also willing to revert to adulthood: Photos
of Daniel and Suzy in the pool—a little roughhousing
then Danny, hair plastered across his eyes but so obviously
looking at Suzy’s, holds her gently under her breasts. All
for the sake of Mister Bones. John Berryman’s love songs
are hits which keep coming but I do not fear
boredom. It is a silent kingdom and I’m a fool
of scattershot songs, chaos and ambient noise
like the chatter of birds. The birder from Nantes
found his species with the yellow throat that’s only exists
here and on Lesbos through its distinctive call.
In the ruins near the stoa about to faint from heat
I met Pieter Achorn, recently of Glasgow, retired professor
of geology. In Turkish he said, how are you?
Confused, I replied in Turkish, I’m fine, and you?
Fine, it’s hot. Are you Turkish?
American. And you?
Scottish. Do you know English?
American. Do you know American?
We discussed the local andesite and he showed me
his lichen samples. I told him I recently learned thistles
are members of the daisy family. A gam, a gulp
of water and good-bye. He headed down
to the sea while I continued to the citadel.
Then to the tea garden by the mosque in the center of Behramkale.
The village idiot was in charge of collecting parking money.
He was very short, thin, and had a face straight
out of Central Asia with a wisp of whiskers—
I tried to speak to him but he didn’t make much sense
(perhaps it was just my broken Turkish). He nodded
very sweetly and ran off to collect money as a Volvo drove up.
I love the way villages make a place for everyone.
Storms clouded the first few days, but just like that
high summer. Bless the wind when it’s warm like this.
I am alone because I know no one sitting here, but we
are drinking tea, chatting, looking out
over the landscape, or in my case reading—The Leopard
by Lampedusa. Sicily seems very close, the fall
of nobility omnipresent. It always is and I suppose it should be.
What’s remains is also noble, the way
locals use square-cut stone from ancient Greek walls
to square up the corners of their homes.
I’m glad to be writing in the shade near a breakwater
in a country foreign and familiar. Around me
people are rolling dice. The water is as turquoise
as the sea in your average tourism poster.
For good luck I threw water on the car that Jimmy and Anna
drove away in. The owner of the pension did the same
when Richard, Melek, Andrew and I left.
Şirin and I came with Andrew and Tracy when
their daughter Sophia still had her deformed foot.
It has been amputated. Last time we visited
she balanced perfectly on a redwood railroad tie—
with a rubber foot! It gave me such hope.
We’ll see them in August but now its July.
Light falls on my legs. I am alone because I know
no one sitting here. We
are drinking tea, chatting, or playing backgammon.
I am taking notes. Will I meet someone I know today,
or someone I will know in passing like Pieter Achorn,
or no one in particular—just a bit of politesse
to pass on to strangers, notable only because I
am a foreigner. So many people like Hakkı or Bruce
have been left out, but at last they fit here.
Just inland from Assos are wonderful oak forests.
It seems that Pieter Achorn should have been
interested in oaks, but he loved lichen and andesite.
Previously published in Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics # 47
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Poetry in this post: © Jeffrey Kahrs
Published with the permission of Jeffrey Kahrs