August 2014


How distant, the departure of young men
Down valleys, or watching
The green shore past the salt-white cordage.
Rising and falling.

Cattlemen, or carpenters, or keen
Simply to get away
From married villages before morning,
Melodeons play

On tiny decks past fraying cliffs of water
Or late at night
Sweet under the differently-swung stars,
When the chance sight

Of a girl doing her laundry in the steerage
Ramifies endlessly.
This is being young,
Assumption of the startled century

Like new store clothes,
The huge decisions printed out by feet
Inventing where they tread,
The random windows conjuring a street.

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,
How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!
I’m sure you felt no pity while they stood
Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don’t be shy:
You know I love to hear how Germans die,
Downstairs in dug-outs. “Camerad!” they cry;
Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick
When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick
And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,
Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
I die?

When exile breaks like a storm
over the open plain of my calm,
when sadness spreads its wings
and hangs, like a crow,
at my door,
I take up the frozen-winged sparrow
of my grief
I go, I go
till I find a child
and with the light of his eyes
I teach the sparrow to fly again
Yet, my love,
how often have I seen
when children grieve in this city
how, like little ducks,
they come to bathe
in the lake of your eyes

“Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.”  – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 1934.

The future is surely uncertain: who can say what will happen? But the past is also uncertain: who can say what happened?

We aged a hundred years and this descended

In just one hour, as at a stroke.

The summer had been brief and now was ended;

The body of the ploughed plains lay in smoke.

 

The hushed road burst in colours then, a soaring

Lament rose, ringing silver like a bell.

And so I covered up my face, imploring

God to destroy me before battle fell.

 

And from my memory the shadows vanished

Of songs and passions—burdens I’d not need.

The Almighty bade it be—with all else banished—

A book of portents terrible to read.

 
 

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