- On History at the Cistern, and: Fear at the Black Sea Bus Station, and: Green Silk, and: On Memory, and: Changes to Daphne, and: Breaking
On History at the Cistern
Above ground I search concrete ledges, scour a four-lane street, pick apart a park and a statue of Ataturk, and try to imagine Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire, Turkish troops marching
toward a Republic. Instead I see scenes someone else described: a river red with Armenian blood, boys hiding in building rafters— stories passed through generations by Kurds
and Christians. Underground I seek evidence of “truth” in a city’s layers, layers like a cake, rich sponginess sealed by sugar to amplify what’s underneath or mask it. Like the ruins
of Troy (or what could be Troy) layers of city upon city settled to sand. But I digress; even cake has context, especially here where “cake” is hard like helva and chefs boil
desserts. Besides, Turks built the wooden horse for tourists. I start over, look closer, walk along the cistern’s bridges to view pillars pillaged from foreign temples. Here’s one
with Medusa’s head, cheek submerged in water. Before men dragged her by horse, she was turned to stone—not the men who disassembled her temple. Perhaps the myth’s [End Page 90]
villain saw her own reflection. A layer of rock. A layer of water. A layer of breath visible. A layer of snake ringlets—algae-green— outlining Medusa’s face, a chunk of marble
so veined, white, giant, it’s hard to imagine her mortal, beautiful. Centuries later, tourists photograph the Gorgon as if she’s a famous diva, calling her face supple, her expression poised.
Fear at the Black Sea Bus Station
We fear what we don’t know.—Quote on a high school chalkboard
Big-muscled American men with crew cuts once marched about Sinop in case Russians twitched behind the Iron Curtain. I don’t know why Turks keep a distance. Perhaps my sundress, bleach-blonde hair. Open-mouthed stares, tight-lipped glares: what do they know about me? The woman in the fringed headscarf, skirt tickling ankles, studies me sideways while I pretend to watch television, coverage split between the States shelling Iraq and an earthquake in southern Turkey.
The woman’s son plays at her feet, talking to himself as three-year-olds do, his urgency interrupted by explosions. With Desert Storm long over I can’t explain [End Page 91] bombs or the warnings for Americans. I don’t know the quake struck the town in which I lived an hour after my flight left for the Black Sea, or that my mother, in Iowa, saw a blonde in brown shorts under rubble on cnn and believed it was me.
By war or quake, cracks open. Once it was enough to fear the unknown; now I fear what I don’t understand: bodies blooming on roadsides, makeshift hospitals springing up. How quick, then, my mother’s relief when she hears my voice. How quick, then, the woman’s reaction when I stand to stretch; she pulls her child close.
The tag, torn loose, reads yeşildal ipek, signals the bluish malachite of Bursa’s
sacred tombs, color of the prayer rug— edged in pine and mint—upon which I
placed my face, kin to shades of the market’s pendants passing for jade. Emerald scarf
marbled with turquoise waves, miniatures of those I swam among after I unknotted [End Page 92]
it from my hips, dropped weightless yards that covered me from hotel to beach.
Breeze-caught, the silk seemed a wing darting toward the courtyard fountain
then wrapping around my head like the veil worn by the hazel-eyed woman who sold it,
hair covered like the women who walked this cobblestone route in 1491 toward
trading caravans hid their cheeks; covered like my great-great-grandmothers wrapped
in petticoats; like my sisters chatting on cell phones, cocooned in worm-spun suits.
Some memory helps with habits, but I’d never stepped out of a bus to the smell of dirt and horse dung, grit...