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
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
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
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
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.
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.