Meeting Nazim Hikmet in Istanbul

Awaking with a hangover this September morning
I remember Nazim Hikmet
Three nights I've dreamt Turkey
But today I dream Nazim
Who must've dreamt of Turkey nightly in prison
My student, Nazim-lover, and I
Trod that Taksim street in Istanbul
Coming to where the street gently ascends and curves
-- The street of the German Hospital --<
And the doorplate suddenly says NAZIM
(in his own signature)

We entered through the heavy metal door
To the marble foyer leading to the marble steps
In fountain patterns spilling down to the street
Clutching the cedar wood bannister
(But the one on the left was missing --
had been missing for some time)
And we climbed the spiral stairs
And came on to the parquet floor
Made of cedar ebony walnut pieces
A mosaic like Nazim's nation
of many woods, climates, people
And rang the brass bell on the polished oaken door

-- No reply
We stood behind the door reciting Nazim's verse
As he must've behind the prison grill inventing his verses
And suddenly Sunday had cheated us of the week's struggle
I read somewhere May Day was Dionysian revelry
Which the modern age fears in the worker
but allows alone on May Day
I remembered weeping on seeing the Red Parade in Heidelberg
Because the State had denied me my workpapers
(I hadn't yet read Nazim / And inside me was still a boy)

Nazim had come to settle here in the heterodox quarter
Among Armenians and Jewish merchants in Italianate buildings
Roccoco facades to his rage
Because the Greek Orthodox Church wouldn't have him
And the mosque, nor the Turkish state would have him
And now he's silenced behind a big oaken door
As in a silk-lined oak coffin

Nazim! Speak to me
I'm in your beloved Istanbul
The Bosphorus arches its back beneath me
like a lazy cat
Last night another pop singer leapt into it to his death
(They said he had everything but he had become mad)
And the country lies despoiled
And there is nowhere to hide
Because the long arm of the law is locked
with the arm of tyrant banks or bomb makers
The arms whose clutches you hated so much
But you were silenced

But you speak now in Armenian and Hebrew and Czech and Slovak
And a dozen other tongues
Wine spills and sparkles in glasses
Grain miraculously grows into bread
Fish leap ashore and into our hands
The Euphrates still rushes, a young mountain girl in turquoise
                    giggling to the sea
And is lost in sand and shallows

My student and I hear you
And his students and their students to come hear you
You are behind that door I know    Come out!
You hae not sung in vain.

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