“To be here where you should be” by James Byrne
ISTANBUL → GAZIANTEP
Guilty as privilege. To be here where you should be. But not here.
Weighing kofte bari, çemen otu behind the splint-fillings of Yeni
mosque. No words for no word from the smuggler broker. To call.
Not to call. To be left waiting on the end of the line. To uselessly
pull apart Kurdish rugs, haggling over prices as they price you up.
Money rots. Your elders are cashed out/into the unravelling bribe.
Call it what it is. Wary over WhatsApp [Delete this………Delete].
Red blush tomatoes slip too easily down the throat. Mesopotamian
host eyes up the cost of an oil truck stuttering across the Bosporus.
You are crammed around your uncle’s TV watching Premier League
re-runs. Choose wisely not to celebrate, sliding in the winning goal
on Cox’s beach. You turn your face into someone else. Your name
into Bangla. Send the visa a week ahead but still the flight grounds
another and again. On Büyükada, a Turkish flag severs the landing
boat. You wait, linger at water like the Marmaran sea tunnelling into
white haze. To hear no news changes nothing. Everything. A crow
shatters the window pane. Stares at its own reflection. Unable to fly.
Dilek Taşi. Place a hand on the wish column. The sweating column.
Laugh out your tears on the weeping column. Scree your hand anti-
clockwise. Cool it on a marble jar from Pergamon. If the muezzin’s
voice holds until the last note, it rings for truth. But whose? One wish.
To walk freely through Imaret’s gate. As if leaving were simplicity.
One footstep to another. For you to travel anywhere without so much
as a bow. Without fear of misdirection. The security guard at the door
rattles prayer beads behind his back. Another counts tourists through
the treasury chamber to a Minbar where Mary rings the dome, holds
her immaculate son on the divan’s white eiderdown. That you could
walk from the Malfili of Murad aligning yourself with the blue/green
mosaics and speak your name: Allah. Jesus. That the hand of another
will carry you through the sky. The holy texts are bound by the same
tiles but the Imam’s translation of the ten commandments does not fit,
says the guidebook. And yet all the gold in the bazaar passes beyond
skin. On the diesis, a precursor asks Christ to intercede on the behalf
of humanity. Hand poised, but the eyes look past you asking: why?
A blue dome’s improbable fold leaves no room for error. How the light
breaks through. You do not trust it you say (since no-one can be trusted).
Don’t tell them any names or dates. Wipe out the messages as you go.
A signature innocuous as the mark of a fingernail clawing at a wall.
No-one is working on Hagia’s southern restoration, but the scaffold
remains. It has been like this for years now, says the guide shuffling in
a cast of expensively bored Russians. Place your hand on the column,
ask for someone else’s luck. For the garden of Constance to unlock.
For the emperor’s green door (güzel kapi, the Beautiful Door) to open
just for you. Dilek Taşi. Place your hand on the wish column. Sweat out
the mythamous of history. Laugh your tears loud. Under Sofia, Medusa’s
head is caught sideways by Perseus, Poseidon [insert other names here].
The column trickles down, 100 ft filled, it’s said, with the tears of slaves.
In the darkness you thought no one was looking, but he is here always,
changeable as sky: Christ to Apollonius. In the dark, unsure, unbeliever,
to pray beyond the everywhere corruptibility of it all. Because anyone
should be free to walk through a door and drink in this sun, this stiff air.
Town of the wounded veteran. To Gaziantep from where did you come?
The same question asked each day. Are farmers burning off the pistachio
fields, or is it something else? The burning of the bomb. A boy lights up
the wickertip of a pomegranate and feints to throw it in your direction.
Pigeons in the bulger yard at Yabinskent scatter through the street’s arid
cracks. Only a U-bend road past the mosque. No purpose in driving past
Allah says the guard, so you don’t but are still stopped at the checkpoint.
Are you Kurdish? he asks. You are Kurdish. Syria? Iraq? You hand over
a Turkish passport. Always Turkish is last, you whisper back to the bus.
“Don’t worry about it, these fuckers do the same thing to me every week
back in Istanbul.” “Ahh, Turkey,” confirms the guard, sending his footman
for the paperwork. Silence flaps like laundry from tower blocks. The city
opens out like hammered collage. The poets crawl from the bus, hand over
IDs, smoke in the dust. A minaret pierces the sky through a fist of cloud.
and the guard’s glare locks until Turgay (the Jack Nicholson of Turkish
television) steps from the bus to ask what’s wrong. Sudden friendship.
Laughter’s echo. Everything is forgotten in the signing of autographs.
Who drags the girl by the cloth of her hijab, picking bin litter for tin cans.
Kurdish-Syrian, maybe twelve, what threat is she? A pink rose blushes
outside your lobby door where a UN jeep leaves for Idlib to watch on
with binocular kits and empty reports. What is this pull, this human weight,
but cost? She wrestles loose, runs into the darkness of the street and is gone
and no-one comes out. An alleyway draped with oversized Turkish flags.
Nationalist celebrants stoked by the chat show. You protest against white
noise static. In Syria, on the brink of war ten years ago, you remember how
the taxi drivers would place a photo of Assad somewhere in the cab or else
traffic fines, worse. Lose your licence or suffer the beating, which is it
and where did you go? The hotel in Tartous had other names beyond
The Green Lizard and on the last day you were lost inside its labyrinth.
Open the door to a conference room of soldiers, a hundred, maybe more.
Another kind of breakfast was going to be served there. In the dead-end
darkness a mutilated bag sags in the wind. The price of the discarded,
anonymous tin: human dignity. The traffic policeman lets the girl go,
throws her hijab in the air, and screams down a speedy car on the road.
Nizar, so quiet from the bridge. Nobody watches from the watchtower.
Night is its own law. One eye trained towards the border’s gauze smoke,
another surveys a patched-up dam shelved just above the refugee camp.
Every time I want to write a poem, says Nihat, I dive into the flooded
village of my childhood. Screenshots reveal him goggled, swimming
through his old house, school. Who said suffering is optional never lived
anywhere far from their armchair. The Euphrates smothers rubble into dust.
Water rises to wash away the myth of black roses. In Nizar, refugees
are first documented then assigned a temporary tent. You cannot live here,
ringfenced, no rock to build a root. The houses from Birecik emblazoned
with bilious mist. The best hope, says Selahattin, is to end up somewhere
else. Another town or village. Families are separated by work, location.
In the pistachio fields around Gaziantep there’s no such thing as a land-
owner spending his profits from the sun. Chained to the wall, a dog barks.
The geese stand up and scatter, wake the overseer, asleep in his chair out
-side the windowless house. A plane echoes turbinal across distant hills.
All the land is bordered. There is always someone there to meet you.