i. Ladies …
Istanbul’s heady July fries my brain.
Fierce silent female street wars rage:
balagons of pastel-scarved peacocks
fight back black hijabs of harder Islamic persuasion
crowing full-throated in coarse head-to-toe burquas
(only lids, rare nostril, dart out slits),
skirt the unstarved mealier-mouthed larger flock’s
green helebi and hot pinkYemeni;
unless spewed through vomitoria,
before entering the souk, they’re singled out,
accosted by desultory cops who wave wands
— not too intent on staying fundamentalist terror —
to hassle the ravens’ suicide bombs or whatnot.
An anonymous urban minister, a lady, writes that djelabas
— even niqabs’ three-layered rainbow veils —
are prisons/straitjackets: “Your freedoms of religion
and speech don’t separate Allah from my state and schools.”
Both gaggles oppose those dressed full Western
in the once-proud New Turk now old
(some say decadent, corrupt)
ruling laïcité tradition of post Ottoman
demigod secularist Kemel Atatürk:
long gone founder of The Republic,
clothed in British tweed, vest and cravat,
his larger than life photos defiantly displayed in most stalls.
The millennial drama between East and West seethes,
a single bridge crosses the Bosporus,
Eurasian civility hangs by a thread,
one country, one crucible straddles two worlds,
billboards hawk whirling dervishes and Metallica;
as the EU ponders Turkey’s entry, weighs Hobson choices,
Islamist camel nose (or more) under Chamberlain redux’s tent
or — insane to me — lose a sole Muslim member,
formally fuel a rejectionist tenth Crusade.
ii. … and Gents
Meanwhile, muezzin sounds surround me,
broadcast to all corners from every mosque and minaret,
wire the faithful to today’s fourth Adhan call to prayer.
My body drips into a vast tourist rain
that surges through Hellespont Dardanelles straits
of unmagic carpets and toilets, faucets and plasticware.
macaroons and meringue, used Chevrolet parts.
Bombarded by ecstatic sing-song cacophonies,
the scene is enhanced by spice bazaar sniffs
of cinnamon and ginger, mothballs, rubber, Turkish Viagra.
Suddenly I startle, pushed aside by a guy tearing ass,
pursued by two vicious studs who tackle and bite their prey,
empty his pockets, kick the daylights out of him
for god knows what reason.
The victim gets up, death whiff receding,
to shout them down — convincingly,
as if after the brawl, he not they is the injured.
It’s unclear in this androgynous bizarre high theater
whether the acted upon or acting is at fault:
the judged takes offense at the judges,
the act no worse than the accusation.
Supporters of each swarm from nowhere scaffolds,
hector, rocks and knives in hand, a prehistoric West Side Story,
seconds at a Victorian duel, corner cutmen in the ring.
But this time maturer males prevail.
Cool thick hands grip hot necks, horse-whisper.
Yet I worry about the balance
in the third or sixth outburst here northeast of Troy
whether Achilles, Ulysses, foolish Paris prevail,
— or reckless feckless elders intrude to grab Helen,
puppeteers who escalate a young person’s game,
send not their children but yours and mine
as fodder to the glory of war.
About the contributor: Gerard Sarnat is a physician who’s built and staffed homeless and prison clinics as well as a Stanford professor and healthcare CEO. He won the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry is published in academic-related journals including University of Chicago, Stanford, Oberlin, Brown, Columbia, Virginia Commonwealth, Arkansas, Harvard, Johns Hopkins etc. He’s also authored the collections Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes (2012), 17s (2014), and Melting the Ice King (2016). Gerry’s been married since 1969 with three kids, five grandsons with a sixth on the way and looking forward to future granddaughters.