Image credit: Cathleen Gordon - "Traces"

Three Poems

Translated from the Turkish by Derick Mattern
View Translator Notes

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Paper

 

 

I’ve had enough of paper and it’s cutting me loose.

From here on this land of mine’s too heavy

for an envelope, a letter written each time

as though it were the last. I’ve trimmed the branches

of this letter, the boat can’t make it to my old friends,

my old words, but it carries me somehow to reach

the shore others have found before me. Oh that the city

I was seeking would turn up! And let the fault be mine,

there’s no way it can be heavier than paper. It’s such a chore,

my absence from the city—keep away, letters, from the city!

Farewell—in giving up the body, I have one sentence

more: I built that sentence for my childhood

and that child is the refrain of a lost poem. I’m giving up

on that, like someone who gives up on a letter

they aren’t expecting, and while you desert me

on the forlorn island of your friendship, I’m looking

for an old soul to move this body, looking for words

heavy enough to silence the misgivings

of paper. Let them be accounted to me, let whatever

space I have on the page be left blank—what else

 

remains for me to give up beyond the page?


Ghazal of the Orphans

 

 

for the loving-hearted ones, the faint of heart

for those who bear heart, though brittle as doves

 

a pomegranate disremembered, a shattered wing, blood

stained by poisoned words more fathomless than water

 

oh Hrant, my brother, my fire-pomegranate, I was rich

with you, my heart was with you to the breaking point

 

I a whirl of cranes and you a dance of doves, together

we breathe in every shade of blue above—just a dream

 

a friend of the nation is friend, I thought, even of

God, a reason, perhaps, to leave the world unrazed

 

in each friend’s death the nation dies, in each tear God

dies a little more, in each dove’s death a thousand cranes …

 

in the end we’re neither Turk nor Kurd nor Armenian

Hrant—you were father to us all, all of us orphans,

 

hearts rent like an unsundered pomegranate, orphans all


Breath Within

 

 

once on board she ordered tea inside

we rode the train, desert on every side

I’d been left by myself within you

look how many I’ve loved in place of you

 

we’ve gone past love, now you can open your eyes

 

she found refuge in a tongue with words inside

we kept crossing paths, the desert on every side

I’d been left with all that’s left within you

look how many youths I’ve praised in place of you

 

we’ve gone past fantasy, now you can look at yourself

 

she shattered, too, my innermost inside

my soul in a bereft pavilion, walls on every side

who had I been left behind for within you

look how many gardens I’ve opened in place of you

 

we’ve gone past who? now you can ask no one



View Original Work ↓

Kâğıt


Kâğıttan ayrılıyorum, burda terkediyor beni
yurdum, burdan ötesi zarfını ağırlaştırıyor
son defa yerine çok yazılmış bir mektubun,
kestim dallarını çünkü arkadaşlarımın eski
sözlerimin yetişemeyeceği bu kayık nasılsa
taşır beni, nasılsa benden önce de varılmış
o sahili bulurum, varsın karşıma çıksın
peşinde olduğum şehir, benim de suçum bu
olsun, kâğıttan daha ağır olamaz ya,
ev ödevi gibi oturduğum şehirlerdeki
yokluğum: Şehrin mektubu gelme bana
elveda! Gövdemi bir cümle daha terkediyor
– o cümleyi çocukluğum için kurmuştum –
Çocuk ki kaybolmuş bir şiirin nakaratıdır
onu terkediyorum, beklemediğim bir mektubu
terkederken ve terkederken beni ıssız
adası arkadaşlığın, bu gövdeye taşınacak
eski bir ruh arıyorum, bu kağıttan kaygıyı
susturacak ağır bir söz arıyorum, çoğu bana
sayılsın, boş kalsın kağıtta bir yerim varsa.

Boşluğuna kıyacağım ne kaldığı kağıttan başka?

 

Yetimler Gazeli

 

 

aşk kalbi olanlar içindir, korkaktır

bir güvercin kadar kalp taşıyanlar, zira incedir

 

unutulan nardır, kırılan kanat, san ki zehir

sözlerin karıştığı kan sudan daha derindir

 

a Hrant, ateş-i nar kardeşim, seninle zengindim

ben seninle bir daha kırılıncaya kadar kalbim

 

ben turnalar semahında, sen güvercin dansında

maviler cemine nefes olacaktık düş bu ya

 

insanın vatanı arkadaşıymış, bildim, Tanrı bile

arkadaşı olsun diye yaratmadı mı dünyayı

 

her arkadaşla bir vatan ölür, her gözyaşıyla

Tanrı bir daha, her güvercinle bin turna...

 

aslında ne Türk’üz, ne Kürd’üz, ne Ermeni’yiz

öyle bir ‘baba’mız var ki Hrant, hepimiz yetimiz

 

kırılmamış bir nar gibi kalbimiz kırık, yetimiz


İÇ NEFES

 

 

o bir çay istemişti, trenin içinde

biz tren yolcusuyduk, çölün içinde

ben yalnız kalmıştım, senin içinde

oysa kaç kişinin yerine sevmiştim seni!

 

aşkı geçtik, gözlerini açabilirsin

 

o bir dile sığınmıştı, sözü içinde

yolu yoluma çıkmıştı, çölü içinde

ben eski kalmıştım, senin içinde

oysa kaç çocuğun yerine övmüştüm seni!

 

düşü geçtik, kendine bakabilirsin

 

o bir bende kırılmıştı, hayli içimde

ıssız otağ kurulmuştu, canım içinde

ben kime kalmıştım, senin içinde

oysa kaç bahçe yerine açmıştım seni!

 

kimi geçtik, kimseye sorabilirsin

Translator Notes

Even as Ergülen is a poet of broad concerns and varied style, his singular focus is on grief. In this selection I’ve chosen to demonstrate both his range and concentration by juxtaposing three poems, each centered on loss with its own unique approach.

“Paper” is from Ergülen’s book 40 Poems and One, a book of meandering meditations, rife with wordplay—mini-essays almost—each in 20 lines free verse followed by a one-line quip, question, or exclamation. “Paper” takes up several themes Ergülen returns to over and over: childhood, the practice of poetry, loss and departure. In this translation I’ve given precedence to rhetoric and form over image and pun, keeping to the original twenty (and one) lines while rearranging them here and there to fit the flow English sentence structure.

The other two poems in this selection come from Üzgün Kediler Gazeli, a book that draws on forms and landscapes from the Anatolian tradition. “Ghazal of the Orphans” is one of several ghazals in the book that seek to revitalize the ghazal form. In this experiment, Ergülen’s ghazal is little more than rhyming couplets, which I’ve made no attempt to replicate. I’ve sought, instead, to preserve the rhythm of the lines and the internal repetitions instead. The poem is riddled with wordplay and Alevi symbolism, such as pomegranates (symbol of unity-in-diversity) and cranes (whose whirling dances resemble Bektaşi worship). The Alevi a quasi-Shia sect, a significant minority in Turkey, of which Ergülen is a prominent member. Hrant Dink was a Turkish-Armenian journalist murdered by nationalist conspiracy in 2007. Ergülen blends religious imagery, political rhetoric, and personal loss into a powerful statement of unity against majoritarian oppression.

“Breath Within” is equally grounded in Alevi tradition: nefes is a type of hymn sung in worship services, giving this lament for lost intimacy spiritual overtones. As with the ghazal, here too I’ve sought to favor repetition over rhyme to keep the liturgical feel of the chorus.


Derick Mattern

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