Written as a telling of a particular day in Istanbul, this poem is part confession, part challenge and in many ways is complicated. Life is complicated. Things are not always as I would wish them to be, cut and dried, black and white, easy to fit into my boxes. This is a poem as I saw it, as I lived and experienced it.
I saw you today.
Walking past my office window,
dumpster to dumpster with drag foot strides,
I saw you, – all of you.
You two mothers pushing finds in converted baby buggies,
babies slung over bent backs,
one tugging at the slack edge of a scarlet head scarf.
Your three and four year olds –
boys in rags and broken sandals –
sometimes behind, sometimes squirting ahead,
but always walking wearily,
wary of the ways of the back of your hand.
Harsh hand and harsher words carry them down dumpster lined streets.
The four year old’s mother
hands an unpeeled orange to his open hand,
rescued from refuse, but fails to peel it.
He makes a marvelous mess of pulp and juice before she,
the giver, the guardian,
slaps it from his greedy fingers.
On they walk,
on into their gypsy life,
their wandering life,
their hungry life,
And they disappear.
a father came.
A father with another four-year old
and another converted baby buggy
and another journey down and Istanbul street,
dumpster to dumpster, market to market,
meal to meal to find to find.
He stops the buggy behind a black Mercedes,
says stay – to the buggy and the boy,
and crosses to the waiting meal in the market trash.
The boy stays,
lips moving – presumably for himself though I could not hear,
fingers fondling the days find.
But then a man approaches,
middle-aged and well dressed,
talking kind words to the boy, beckoning –
And the boy goes without qualm
quickly on his heels and into the next door store.
But then the father returns,
smiling at the two bruised apples and smashed orange in his hands
to find the buggy but not the boy.
I see it then.
I see how much love he harbors in his tired heart for his son.
I see it in the fear that creep into his eyes.
I see it in the terror of his movements
and in the two new bruises the apples receive
as they hit the concrete at his broken sandals.
I see it in his hands, cupped around shouting lips –
I see it in the flood of relief that his snack smiling son
gives him when he bolts from the store,
cookies clutched in jubilant hands.
A broken heart is not broken more.
The middle-aged man walks past the two,
a silent Samaritan not letting left know what right had done.
On he walks,
on into his Muslim life,
his secular life,
his blessed life.
And he disappears.
I walk home along the sea,
praying for this nation,
praying for grace and discernment to be salt and light.
I stop at the store,
mindlessly buying four kinds of noodles,
not knowing what we’ll make with them.
My groceries and I make our way to the tunnel where I will cross the tracks,
On a concrete bench
Sit two tired teenage boys.
“Mister, we’re hungry. Do you have any food? Do you have any money?”
I stop, surprised.
“Would you like some noodles?”
I offer to blank stares and then add –
“You can cook them at home.”
Their look tells me they may not have a home.
“We’re hungry mister. Do you have any money?”
I turn and walk
And cross the tracks
And walk from them
But the five lira in my pocket doesn’t disappear.
And the words of Jesus don’t disappear.
“You will always have the poor among you.”
It seems now more a command than a fact.
A command I’ve missed through the sham of fact.
If the poor are not among us,
Could it be we disobey?
I surely did today.
I surely did today.
(previously published at Stories from Turkey and The Everyday Language Learner)