Notebook from Turkey

Beth Levin

[January 2005.]



Older, I visit the city of seven hills
really two cities
one polished, underneath it the uncut ruby
grave faces waiting for a bus
the bus a funny green
A thousand year old tile in the mosque
indigo, emerald, mustard
I touch its cold surface
men washing their feet outside the gate
a dense, intricate culture
like the carpets
Can I read the markings
unravel enigmas
see inside, behind?


Hakan so true
in a woolen cap
once he lost it and was more careful
his eyes, his eyes
see through any lie
a man of the earth, a man of the people
at work in an embassy
not exactly the right setting
he travels with us, translates,
jokes, adding light to the journey
a noble everyman
sensing his role in the scheme
Only we see him as prince


Four a.m., transfixed in my bed
the call to prayer
urgent, pleading
a chant in micro tones, under the clef
a man’s vocal fibers squeezed,
stretched to extreme
awakening a city to its
spiritual core



Sabine knows what to do at the piano
I am there to evaluate the students in Edirne
Instantly I question my ability to judge
try to keep myself out of it
but how?
I know the pressure of this morning
the keyboard askant
dank hall, cold lighting
classmates and teachers present
Sabine is the one in whom they have invested
the one they dream on
I know Sabine


Poplars winter white, fragile
Swan Park, U.S. the ugly duckling
a fancy lunch at The Washington
Hillary Clinton has eaten here
her picture in a special place
divine food. I don’t exaggerate

Another lunch, simple this time
we eat with our hands
the real people
men with hair of coal
married to dark-eyed beauties
some heads covered, some uncovered



regal, eyes the color of the sea
her laugh eradicating all things petty
her appreciation of art, history
the tiniest irony
loving the color red, music, people
large in sympathy
living large



A tone of voice so soft it could
woo doves from their nest
children in a gilt theater
answering the characters on stage
rehearsal of Don Pasquale
orchestra splendid, Turkish singers first rate
introduction to the opera director, a dark Peter Sellers
horned rimmed glasses, ascot
a hand kisser


the winding streets, fog
gentle merchants
we are served tea
a show of carpets
they speak to me
I take one home


On the plane home
sipping champagne
haven’t put on my earphones
don’t know what a man in a pony tail
and wire rims is saying
he makes passionate gestures
I recall the ambassador’s residence
fifty or so for dinner and a concert
our van searched for bombs
rehearsal stalled
piano must be moved
the pink Oriental rolled up
staff everywhere
the kitchen preparing a banquet of curry
I peruse the library, Lenin to Goldwater
wall photos, the ambassador with Gorbachev,
the ambassador with Powell
that night we speak about each piece first
Gershwin in Turkey
I like to think he would be pleased


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