Night Opening on Istanbul
first night in Turkey
for Zeki Tombak
Domes are blurring in twilight that swathes the city in dusky silk,
skies pewter-blue over sunset-bright waters opposite
piers at Eminönü. Inside the Rüstem Pasha Mosque,
Iznik tiles will be glowing rare coral-red in the dying light.
We sit as the young man cracks crates apart to feed our fire,
waves slipping along the concrete walkway at Kadıköy
while ferries channel their way towards the Sea of Marmara.
Galata bridge is a snail trail of lights, fishing-lines still dangling.
It is dark blue, this water, and the sky deepening as Istanbul begins
its shimmer into night, a crowd of fireflies rising, twinkling
in a galaxy of its own. Lights stud the darkness of evening
to the sky’s dome; minarets needle-sharp, tremble towards heaven.
It is cold. Nevin’s long black hair is curling with the damp chill.
Nut-dark eyes reflect the glimmer from a lone gold streetlamp
thrown in rivulets across ripples of the Golden Horn.
The future is glowing in her skin, life an adventure unfurled.
She translates for us laughing. We struggle and stretch our tongues
into a common word: poet – şair. Raki with its aniseed jolt
whitens in the rising moonlight, warms our bellies;
my too-young son burns his tongue on its heat to stop shivering.
In the fish market beside us, dinner swims glimmering silver.
You choose Bosphorus fish. Your friend, dancing to music
coming from a house behind, cuts the picnic open,
sweet tomatoes, feta chunks, onions beetroot-red.
You slice radishes, white flesh pristine against a pomegranate
stain of skin, and tell the story of the poet at the inn
who asked for radishes every night, leaving them uneaten at
each meal, food only for the hunger of his eyes.
Scaled, the shining fish glint in an old wire barbecue frame
before they are slapped over tumeric flames, seared black,
salted and coursing olive-green with oil. Hungrily
we tear them apart, stuff them between slabs of bread.
Elsewhere in the city, tulips, whose lineage began here, rest in the
settled dark. Daisy-gold, mulberry and plum, scarlet with alabaster
hearts, pink with prim tinted lips, they have closed for evening
awaiting the seduction of sunrise, so bright it wears them out.
Only fifteen days before their heads drop among the rainbows
of polyanthus and pansies, wedges of colour against stone
pavements of Sultanahmet, green verges on the highways,
Byzantine walls crumbling towards summer.
I grapple to absorb nine layers of civilisation
entering the weave that will become our pattern of days
in weeks to come: food and colour, stone and tile,
language and light. It grows colder along the water.
Our fingers begin to freeze at the end of raki-fluid limbs.
Under a blood full moon, rising whole, uncut by cloud,
waves of light are thrown onto river and dome.
This moment difference dissolves. A warm union binds us