Back to Issue Eighteen.

every thought you have seeps into your blood

BY DERICK MATTERN
 

                                    Summer storms—in the kitchen I’m at work
              flensing strawberries, split and slice, trimming off tops,
                                                glass of sémillon at hand, my music outside
                                     rain like a piece of 

                         fabric tearing, thunder having its way with
              windowpanes. The chopping block’s soaked through, so red,
                                    saturated with juice, as though I’d cut off
                         a fingertip or 

                                    peeled gauze from a wound. This fruit’s for the deep freeze,
                                                 for a winter I won’t see, this my second summer
                          spent in Marta’s apartment in Üsküdar,
                                                 thanks to her summer 

                                     off from teaching basic English to teenage
                                                punks and scholars at the school where we once met.
                        But also this is Zeynep’s house, although no more—
                                                                                  couch or coffee-maker, 

                                   everything in this house reminds me of my ex,
           even the chestnut tree that in the wind pounds
                                              eaves, as though besieging with medieval weapons
                      bitternesses held 

                                               on to long after the expiration of their intent.
             This was a bad idea, I know, to stay so
                                               long where I’ve already been excavated from.
                                    Memory of fire 

                                               keeps no one warm. Flesh is not easily stuck from
                        nor reduced to silence. (Zeynep knows this well,
                                    colic a better teacher than my insufferable
                                                                                               philosophizing.) 

            If I’m cold now she’d tell me to cuddle to
                                 my religion and she’d be right. I dreamt of her
                      one night: I was for her wedding vows a şahit,
                                             witness in a memory that isn’t, can’t be, mine.
I couldn’t figure out 

                                             where to sign the form. I saw more and more, more
                      than I wanted to, newspapers and TV
                                             filled with crimes and curses: A divorcée shot
                                  for honor. A woman

                                                       burned to hide her rape from the coroner.
                     Another freed her rapist’s head and threw it down
          right smack in the middle of the village square:
                                                                              Here is my honor, she said. 

So many men I saw who cut their brides and called it
                                 mercy—No, none of this I saw. Just headshots
                                                      of the murdered in the corner store lining news racks
                                                                 washing over me like 

                                          turbid floodwaters—doused but never drowned.
        More than once I’d seen Zeynep, Yatağan girl,
                                                     sharpen like a pasha’s sword for a night out.
                   There was a song she

                              liked to quote: Elimi kana bulama
                                                      Tempt me not to wet my hands with thy blood!—                                                                                                       which is how I liked to fancy it up,
                                         turn threat into plea, 

                  but the words trickle back in as the rain falls,
                                         and I wonder again why men must shed blood
      to bond in ritual, must like a pelican vuln,
                                                                must embrace such easy

       uncertainties on damp summer evenings.
                                                     Well, I can bite anything I want, even if
                                    Ramadan falls this time in full July. Last year
                                                           when protests broke and women banged pots ’n’ pans
                                               every night at nine 

                                                           o’clock and we rinsed our eyes with ayran
                        for the gas, the moment labile, the moment
                                                rapt with longing, the moment presented itself,
                                    and I fled straight home 

                                               with an ex-student of mine. Don’t judge, Marta,
             yes, we broke your bed, but only since you had
                                                           first with what-his-name. (Sorry, Zeynep, that couch
                                    had become too much 

            like a shrine.) I remember when she came
                                              over the second time, waiting for her beside
Ahmed’s fountain, the afternoon was a listless
                                                                      anchorage, lapping 

                                    at the ferry quay, and I watched as stormclouds
            clashed together like prows of ancient warships,
                                              as the delicate tendrils of a waterspout
                                                                                              caressed the shoreline, 

                                                           sewage gushed from the gutter pipe’s overflow,
                        desire surged like a god striving for its end,
                                                            current crackling through our welcome kiss
                                    like a ligature 

                                                            both of us meant to throttle. For that violence, let me,
  too, take the fall. And also for this poem, now,
                                                 blame me, like that classic rhetor stabbed with hairpins
                                                                        in his decapitated

                                    tongue, uxorial justice for a man squeamish
                                                                                  about seduction sleeping with dialectic. There’s         a flub, I’ve gone and botched the timeline.
                  There’s more I remember, 

                                        sure, about how Zeynep secured her purity,
      baptism by baptism, scouring what was
                                                    left of me away each night, careful and solemn,
                 or about how the fridge, 

                                       end of that long summer, failed and my work,
all those frozen strawberries, in one weekend’s
                                                          heat deliquesced instantly into rank sludge.
                        How to make good on 

                                    what we’ve inherited is the question, but first
            clean the fridge, sop up the bilge and try not
                                                                      forgetting that anatomy is theology,
                        that language sluices through     

                                                culverts of betrayal. Close the spigot tight.
                                                                        Make a rite of it. Call it a bloodless sacrifice,
                                      if you want. Remember that because of her
                                                            in Antioch 

           that one night you were first called enişte,
                                              brother-in-law, by Adil Hayyam, a random
                                                         stranger, elderly, who took you to his shoe shop
                       and sealed you with moonshine 

                                             and a dash of rose-water. Remember you
                                  remember, each day, what has yet to come.
                       Remember when the axe comes to the forest,
                                                                    one of us is the handle.

 

The title of this poem borrows language first encountered in a 2013 Humans of New York post. 

 

 

Mattern 18

Derick Mattern is a poet and translator. His work has appeared in Subtropics, The Los Angeles Review, Mantis, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Asymptote, and elsewhere.

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