Ali Cengizkan (b. 1954) graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the Middle East Technical University, where he is presently teaching. His major poetry collections include Senlere (To You / 1980), Çocuk Ömrümüz (Our Life as a Child / 1982), Yunan Dosyası (Greek Dossier / 1983), Yürüyüşler ve Duruşlar (Marching and Standing / 1984), Bağımlı Şiir (Engaged Poetry / 1986), Ankara Ankara Güzel Ankara (Ankara Ankara Beautiful Ankara / 1987), Sürek Avında Dünya (World at the Chase / 1994), Öğle Suyu (Watering Under Noon Sun / 1997) and Şairin Nergisi (Poet’s Marigold / 2000). His collective works comprising his ten books has been published in one volume recently with the title Kırmızı Gün, Beyaz Gece (Scarlet Day, White Night, 2009).
Thus spoke Master Rüstem who cleaned the rock tomb.
Rock also decays.
If you have gone beyond the narrow streets smelling of figs
you must have seen
On the seashore a little boy throwing stones into the water
Rock also decays.
Bend down a bit, lean over the rusty railing
Look where the water meets the pier
Rock also decays.
On the beach the old boatman is putting the first coat on the pinewood
The child has grown up; knows how to swim and play in the water
My soul does not decay; teardrops do not penetrate, nor do your bullets
Let the rock decay.
“Taş da Çürür” from Senlere (1980); written in 1977. © translation Suat Karantay.
TWENTY-EIGHT POEMS FOR OSTIA ANTICA
The benevolent rain
And the unforgiving
Mothers of our youth
Upright and beguiling
Decumanus Maximus, 15 05.
Snake and man
On the gray and white mosaic
Tufa of life
Terme di Nettuno, 15 13.
What is it she cannot take her eyes off
Is it his large white hat
Or his sunburnt, handsome face of a sailor
With long red hair
One cannot tell
The Termini Train, 17 15
from “Ostia Antica İçin Yirmi Sekiz Şiir” Şiir IV / VII / XXVII, in Sürek Avında Dünya (1994); written in 1994. © translation Suat Karantay.
MY UNCLE WORE A ROSE ON HIS LAPEL
And as if it were alive he would water it every day.
To let the water on his dark flesh vaporize
He would button down his shirt with rascally strong words:
A florist he was who would not kill lice o a lef.
A photographer who touched up the photographs of war.
A storyteller who came home smiling every night.
Auburn he was- his children resembled his wife.
His tallness protected him from the cold.
A greengrocer who never ate his own tomatoes.
A merchant who new no cushions but matting.
Religious- he would not drink raki* during edhan**.
The glasses he wore made his eyes seem larger.
Wanderer he was who trod the cobblestones of İzmir.
A fisherman whose hands became calloused by water.
A nicotine addict wose long cigarette curled.
A diplomat who attended coctail parties with his fancy trousers on.
An investor who worked overnight to feed his family.
My uncle wore a rose on his lapel.
Had he seen you he would have cried with joy.
*raki: Turkish alcoholic drink made from grapes and aromatic anise.
**edhan: call for prayer for Muslims.
“Dayım Gül Takardı Gömleğinin Yakasına,” in Çocuk Ömrümüz (1982); written in 1979. © translation Asalet Erten.
FOREST AND GARDEN
In mid-life as I awaken in a dark forest, lost chances, regrets, the joy of skies unexplored, air particles with traces of my wings, they all they all, like pebbles on my back finding themselves a place and trying to settle in better, like traces hurrying to fill up voids and extra spaces, everything that is the picture of endurance like the soot under the kettle, the embers I kick, the ash smearing my foot, there, they all they all, everything that belongs to today and yesterday and tomorrow and to the self, say one should be on his way.
In mid-life as I awaken in a dark forest, questions like why didn’t we meet before, why does a friendship sometimes start hopelessly like separations beginning before even uniting and like the first tiny leaf of a sapling in a dry forest, why does the fire of regret befall us at the very last moment, why does the fire of regret we feel for the immense compromises we make in return for small gains burn the forest helplessly, why are your eyes that shine like two pieces of diamond in my palm, those eyes I’m afraid to touch, those eyes that can endure forest fires so distant, why oh why are your shining eyes turning into a question now?
A garden, however, like prose, prose forever in need of editing, the words of which die out, which fertilizes its own soil, places its commas awkwardly, waters itself under the noon sun and always conceives its fruit in the winter, a garden like prose which bears its unwanted fruit in the winter, with which women always fall in love, with which women always fall in love but where men feel regret and are lonely, consoles itself digging and writing.
At this hour of waking with the hardness of pebbles on my back, let reason beat its drums, common sense blow its flute and strike its cymbals, thoughtlessness break its pen and seating its brother torture next to it let it kindle the fire of love: Kiss honor on the forehead and on its petals and make destiny, dragging its beard along, piss on the road cleaning the lust from the asphalt.
In mid-life as I awaken in a dark forest, oh god, there is so much light to be trodden upon, so many saplings to plant, so much death to be witnessed.
“Orman ve Bahçe,” in Sürek Avında Dünya (1994); written in 1994. © translation Suat Karantay.
A PAIR OF EYES, IN THE COWARD NIGHT
The living room is a stage, in the midst of eternity.
Two banquettes, left from an autumn day in the park.
A dieffenbachia at the corner, unpleased of its future.
With the manner of a child at the edge of an abyss
Of a child afraid of abyss
A woman crouched in the middle of hers.
Confused of life, waiting for the autumn day.
Next to the dieffenbachia that is unpleased of its future
A graduate girl smiling at her future
On her shoulders appear her middle-aged parents
Blowing up her smile with an enlarger
In a photograph, a funny girl, looking at her future.
God, why are the things to be adored blown up so?
And why do we minimize our failures furiously?
In the eyes of a funny girl, the colts
In the eyes of a woman, a steppe of discontent
Where stallions keep leaping on …
“Bir Çift Göz, Korkak Gecede”, in Sürek Avında Dünya (1994); written in 1992. © translation Coşkun Yerli.
Published with the permission of Ali Cengizkan