A Favorite Poem

Sinopem

the homeland enters the main vein
her scent floods to each body cell
one stunning aroma after another
i thirst in hunger pangs

etched to memory in blood and flesh
the magic of my early life
often asleep – head should feel sore
however when awake cold or ache no more
blanket soaking in her perfume
pillow, one of softest feathers
“snow falls upon who sleeps” she whispers . . .

one corner – a distinctive delight
a town in unison with its sea
unlocks the long suppressed

there!
it stretches to the harbor in cheer
main street down tea gardens of yesteryear
Divan café – loyal as ever before
hugs the aged salt factory to affectionately mend
guards before the old prison the compliant inner bay
not at all anxious by its fast descending bend
sates with secrets-devouring treats
my childhood eyes and arousing sighs
on loads and loads of mouth-watering plates
a huge piece of Revani* – apt for my sweet-tooth-fame
topped with natural ice cream of vanilla beans
delights generation after generation after generation
eight in total the loved ones of mine

farther away lies the town’s aorta
the legendary passage to famed Ada
coveting April 23rd parades of ribbon bouquets
on Çocuk Bayramı – Festival of Children . . .
flows in sync with streets wide open alleys unseen
carries along a dear one of mine
to the heart’s mind scene by scene

my eyes lock on the trail to the highest peak
one modest look to the left or the right
the sea struts its azure wealth and might

and there a breath away
dons mysteries that spectacular house
bricks worn out shutters ashen hue
still erect in humility though
vies few more breaths to accrue
ornate transoms eye the vastness of the sky
their weathered glances down upon the sea
the soil tender as a new mother’s caress
depleted tree roots soon to finally rest
as have those who were put there abreast

my heart wanders off to the faded print:
wide steps to a wooden tall entry door
a stately man – fedora briefcase handsome face
my uncle by his leg – a mere toddler
a Shirley Temple though Turkish – my mother
her tiny gleaming face ever so bright
glued to the colossal front window

my grandmother’s beauty in the dark
on her lap my other uncle – her youngest
his cruel damaged pre-natal heart 
cut off too soon his contagious delight

next to me
the unique scent of my mother
the warmest warmth of her soul

*Sinop/e of the Turkish Black Sea – my adoptive birthplace, –is the country’s only peninsula. “Sinopem” is a self-coined wordplay for which I resorted to reflect the Turkish possessive suffix. This small picturesque town is where eight generations on my mother side lived and died; “Revani”: A traditional Turkish dessert made of semolina and heavy syrup.

~ ~ ~ ~
This favorite poem of mine has first appeared in my poetry book, Aflame: Memoirs in Verse (published by Inner Child Press International on May 9, 2018)

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Short Stories, continued

“Don’t You See What You Mean to Me?”

My first love was my first boyfriend, who became my first fiancé.

Y[. . .] and I had met during our first semester in college. Having many interests in common on academic, social and intellectual levels but also through our special fondness for world literature and classical Western music, we soon became inseparable friends. There was hardly any cultural event that we would be willingly miss. Films, yes, we saw several. When it came to classical music concerts or theatre plays, however, we would make a list of our joint preferences and make sure to experience them all. In our own homes, then, we would write a review of those events and read them to one another, discussing them in great detail in-between classes.

Our friendship took a different direction pretty quickly. It happened on the night of my first folkloric dance performance. He had asked me if he could take me to the place of the event, wait until I was done and bring me back home. With my acceptance of his offer, that night marked our first togetherness outside the university grounds.

The group of which I was a member had been formed by the university administration. So, the director and the event organizers were reliable, trustable people, with common sense, I had assumed. When we auditioned at the semester-beginning, we were told specifically that we would appear in front of college-related organizations and communities. That first time, however, we were not nearly close to dancing for a scholarly audience.

Y[. . .] picked me up from home, carrying my bag filled with my costume, headwear, accessories and shoes. We left for our destination. Where on earth did we arrive? In a night club! I had never been to one, and had no intentions whatsoever to go to such establishments; not only at the age of 18 but as in never in my life. Well, there was no turning back, as I had a responsibility to fulfill. Y[. . .] accompanied me through narrow steps into a hallway. Upstairs, we had been told that the dressing rooms were down there. I still have no idea what the men’s dressing room had in store for the unsuspecting eye, but the women’s version confronted me with half-nakedness all around. And stares galore!

Our group completed several dances. A Caucasian routine had three lead performers, one male and two females. I was one of them. It is practically a mini-theater about a love story, jealousy and the male’s final decision for a bride. Each time we had rehearsed at the university, I was the bride. Here I was again the chosen female. I must have played my part very realistically, as the audience applauded me enthusiastically. After our performance, we tried to walk out of the stage, back to the dressing rooms to change. The women of the late night entertainment were waiting behind the curtains, shoulder to shoulder. We had to literally break our way in. Again, under stares. Not at all friendly.

I practically dived into my regular clothes and met with Y[. . .] as planned, in what seemed to be a sorry excuse for a lobby. He was thrilled with my roles throughout, but uneasy about where we had ended up.

There were no public transportation stops in that area. With our student budgets, we were most certainly not going to take a cab. We started walking toward our bus station. It was a chilly night, but I felt cozy having him by my side. I thanked him multiple times for all his kind attention to me and for accompanying me to and from the event. After my last words of thanks, he stopped, held my hand and looked me in the eye with so much affection that I knew ours wasn’t a standard friendship for him. “Hülya, don’t you see what you mean to me? You are not just my best friend. I love you. I am in love with you!”

My feelings for Y[. . .] had also been running deeper than in a mere friendship for a while. When he asked me where my heart stood, I admitted to him that his love was not unrequited.    

*From my upcoming book of short stories, Once upon a Time in Turkey (For some reason, I have not been able to maintain in this post the original format of my intent.)

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Thank You!

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January 3, 2021 · 7:00 am

A Proem

Proem

Bir varmış, bir yokmuş . . .

The phrase above echoes the opening lines of a fairy tale in Turkish. How often have I heard them as a child! Little did I know that, one hot summer day in 2016 while sitting on my small patio, I would conceive in those four words the title of this book, my first fictional prose – or better yet, my first autobiographical fiction. I cannot count the nights when my mother would read to me my most favorite children stories from classical Turkish literary traditions, each time starting with “Once upon a Time”. I do not remember at what age I began to talk legibly, but I suspect my first utterances were, “bir varmış, bir yokmuş” . . .

In our human existence, there is one core three-way reality: We are born, we live, and we die. Throughout that in-between-phase, we hope that our lives have mattered to our beloveds. It is the hope for permanence; that we live on beyond our death. This collection is my attempt to seek such a permanent memory for my loved ones. At the same time, it is my tribute to those beloveds of mine who are no longer here in the realm of what we perceive to be our reality. It is my way of proving to myself that their lives mattered and continue to matter.

Once upon a Time in Turkey is anything but a fairy tale. Hence, my reference above to the hybrid genre, fictional autobiography. In my stories, I indulge myself in taking the liberty to work hand-in-hand with those elements of literature that are inherent in and integral to creative fiction: the stories I share with you inside are true indeed. They are, however, dressed in imaginary attires – masks and costumes, if you will. While flashbacks comprise their stronghold, they do not come to surface in any particular chronological order. As a stream of consciousness, I have taken poetic license randomly in helping them step out of their cold-blooded and often sad realities. My intent was to construct a short-prose assembly in order to put in writing how I remembered my interactions with my loved ones over the many magical years throughout which they had gifted me with immense love, joy, happiness, and unconditional support.

Laughter, tears, surprises, enchantments, anticipations, fears, suspicions, regrets, resentments and loves . . . decided on that hot summer day in 2016 to wake up my spirit which had been asleep for too long. All the emotions, thoughts and experiences no longer wanted to be pushed back to the most remote corners of my consciousness. Nor did any of them choose to stay numbed inside my heart anymore. They demanded to be listened to. So, my unforgotten memories began to voice themselves in me.

It is my hope that you will join me around this gathering of tales; tales that traveled from my country of birth, Turkey to reach your  hearts. May you receive them in their intended spirit and feel joy, however small, alongside mine with which I have been privileged to live throughout my life as a Turkish girl, teenager and young woman. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The preface to my pending book of autobiographical short stories, Once upon a Time in Turkey

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A Short Story

“Sister, I Love You But . . .”

I remember the setting as if I am there today. My grandfather’s home in Istanbul, that is. For many years, he lived in one of the many picturesque old multi-story houses. To my eyes as a little girl then, the decorative iron gate seemed gigantic. A flagstone walkway surrounded by a garden of a large variety of flowers led to the entry door. Entering the grounds alone was magical. Unless my parents made an effort to take us to neighborhoods with private homes, such sight was not at all common in Ankara where we lived. Flats in tall apartment buildings were most popular in Turkey’s capital. My Mom always compensated the lack of nature by filling our home with plants and fresh flowers. Still, her father’s place mesmerized us all.

Grandpa also had a fenced-off vegetable garden, which stood in the back on a large piece of land. He had had a swing set installed for my brother and me so that we could have fun whenever we visited him and his wife. That delightful entertainment piece sat very close to the low-lying stone walls way in the back. Together with the many sets of big trees, the walls were separating Grandpa’s home from those of the neighbors. The house had several balconies. One was situated on the second floor right outside the kitchen and offered a clear view of the swing set. My brother and I loved spending our time there, while Mom and Grandpa’s wife prepared a delicious meal for us to enjoy on that balcony.

It was almost breakfast time one day. The adults were making the preparations. My brother and I asked Mom if we could go to the backyard. Before she could finish saying, “Yes, just be careful”, we were out the door. Off to the swing set we went. We took turns pushing. During the last round of our fun activity, I was on the swing. All of a sudden, a dog appeared along the stone wall. At first, he kept its distance, but was barking at us nonstop. In a soft voice, my brother said, “Hülya, don’t be scared. I am here. He can’t do anything to you. I am not going to push you anymore, because we should race home once you get down.” I remember being terrified. I shut my eyes so tightly that I felt a little dizzy. I don’t know anymore how many minutes it took for the swing to lose its speed. I heard my brother’s voice again. This time, it was coming from a distance. He was shouting, “Mom and Grandpa are on their way to get you. The dog ran toward the trees. Hülya, I love you but I have to make a go for it!”

When I finally opened my eyes – still sitting on the swing, Mom and Grandpa were right beside me. No sight of that dog. No sight of my brother, either. To this date, I don’t know how he did it (and forgot to ask him every time I had a chance to find out that morning’s details). But he somehow had managed to climb up the stone wall to safety – waving at us all, beaming shyly.    

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Ali Eymen’ime

Ali Eymen’ime, Doğum Günü’nde

İlk Dansımız

Anneciğinin ve babacığının odasında
Yerleştirdik seni önce.
Senle ben daha sonra
Geçtik yedek odanıza.
Yapışık uyudum ben senin sepetine.
Biraz huzursuzlanmıştın sen bir gece.
Çok hafif bir ışık açtım sana.
Kurdum bir de sepet-üstü
“Mobile” oyuncağını.
Onun müziği eşliğinde
Başladık ikimiz ilk dansımıza.
Adeta uçuyordum ben bulutlar üstünde.
Mis kokun, sıcacık masum bebek nefesin
Mest etmişti beni.
Sakinledin sen hemen.
Gene de bırakamadım yerine seni.
Kucağım etti ısrar ve de isyan,
Ayırırsam ben seni benden diye, olur ya.
Kucakladım defalarca o mucize güzelliğini,
Ama dikkat ederek seni uyandırmamaya.
Kokladım her bir yerini belki de yüzlerce kere.
Seni yatırdığımda sepetine,
Bomboş kalmıştı içim.
Pek bir mutluydum ama.
Dalmıştın sen bir kez daha
O huzurlu, melek uykuna.

Our First Dance

Your crib was set up
In the room of your
Mommy and Daddy.
Their spare room
Was serving you and me.
I had glued myself ecstatically
To your you-scented bassinet in there.
One night, sleep escaped you again.
I started your mobile toy
And dimmed the lights.
Then began our first dance.
I was flying atop the clouds.
Your gift of a heavenly scent,
Your sweet, innocent baby-breaths
Had enchanted my aging soul.
You calmed down. Fast.
Still, I could not lay you down.
My arms insisted with a frown . . .
I could not part myself from you.
I hugged your miracle-beauty.
Who knows how many times?
But I did so as softly as I could be.
I inhaled your scent repeatedly.
The moment I lowered you
Into your slumber-bay,
A sense of void came to me to stay.
I felt so empty but was very happy.
For you had fallen peacefully
Into your usual angelic sleep. 

From Canlarım, My Lifeblood, my book of Turkish and English poetry (Private Edition, published in December 2019 by Inner Child Press International)

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“Daddy”

Daddy

in the tongue i learned from you and Mommy . . .

kaç kere gördüm kendimi
o kaşığı ve çorba tasını tutarken titrek ellerimle
her seferinde senin beni
kah tam tanır kah başkasıyla karıştırır
ama o bana hep sevgiyle bakan
öpüp koklayan okşayan
senden aldığım renkteki
anlayış şefkat dolu gözlerin üzerimde
Hülişim! Nasılsın kızım?
hayatının belki de en zor o gününün akşamında
nasıl oldu da diyebildim ki ben sana
“Sakın gelme baba!
İnan, ikimiz de perişan oluruz sonra.”
tamam sen hastaydın hem de epeyce
çoğumuzun ruhu duymuyorken
yaşlanmıştın çok hem de pek çok
her sevenimizin bildiği o keskin hafızan
artık değildi bize en yakın dün kadar
bana gelince . . .

tamam
kronik hastalığımdan edinmişim bir yoldaş
beni hiç bir zaman eski halime bırakmayacak
tamam
kendim ancak kendime yetebilen
ruhen bedenen madden
olsun!
ne olduysa olsun!
ne olursa olsun!

nasıl oldu da çıkabildi ağzımdan
o upuzun yoluna ta okyanus üzerinden
nankörlükle yoldaşlaşan
telefonumun o buz gibi ahizesine
sana doğru yola çıkan
o kalbimden silinesi kahrolası sözlerim?
senin nefesini duyabilen
iyice çökmüş ciğerlerinin
neredeyse üzerinde deri kalmamış
bedeninin üstündeki aciz iniş çıkışları gören
her bir hemşireye nasıl imrendim ah bir bilsen!
hele ki sana yemeğini verene
hem sana her gün bakarken hem de arkandan . . .
ne zihnim ne de kalbim
bana rahat nefes aldırmaz oldu
aldırmayacak da canım babam
hele ki ağabeyim senin o son resmini
bana gönderdiğinden beri

ölesiye üzgünüm hala Babacığım

beni affet ne olursun!
seni çok sevdim hep
hep seviyorum
seveceğim de hep
ne de olsa hala
senin her zamanki „Hüliş“inim ben
sana kendi son nefesine kadar minnettar
sana minikliğinden beri yolunu hiç şaşırmadan
hayran mı hayran „Hüliş“in

in the tongue of another . . .

how many times have i imagined myself
holding that spoon and the soup-bowl
caressing your occasionally cognizant
but mostly unaware eyes
seeing in me someone else
your eyes that always glowed
with love, compassion, understanding,
and forgiving me, giving me hugs
in warmest soul-comforting kisses
those My Daddy-eyes
which gifted mine
with their hazel-color

Hülişim! How are you, my girl?
. . .

how could i possibly utter those words
in the night of your most-troubled day?
Don’t come over, baba.
Believe me, we will
Both be miserable.

true

you were seriously ill

true

your mental you-ness
was declining so fast

true
your routinely sharp and expansive memory
famed among all our beloveds
was no longer intact

true
my by now-loyal for life-companion
that chronic physical dis-ease
would not even for a second
leave my side
true
i barely was enough
for my own self
psychologically
physically
financially
still!

how could i utter those cursed self-cursing curse-able
     words?
those damn-able haunting ungrateful words?
words that frivolously escaped my heart
and seeped through my iced-up receiver
on to their troubled self-troubling path
all the way over the ocean
to those My Daddy-eyes
. . .

i wish you knew, Babişim
how i envied then and after you passed
each one of your nurses who was there for you
who heard your faint yet still-breathing breaths
who saw how under your barely there-skin
your lungs still pumped their instinctive air faintly

i covet still today
in times of my grave despair
that one particular nurse
the one who is busy beaming happily
while she is feeding you your soup

as the photograph of you
has related succinctly to me
the second to last photo that is
the one that my brother sent to me
neither my mind nor my heart
lets me take a guilt-free breath anymore
i am so sorry, canım Babam!
please forgive me!

i have always loved you

i love you today

i will love you every day
i am after all still your “Hüliş”
the one who has always been
your unwavering devoted admirer

i am in eternal gratitude for you
a fact that will never ever sway
even then when my last breath
is finally on its way

From: this and that, published on January 5, 2019 by Inner Child Press International

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“A Pained Yearning”

A Pained Yearning

The Sun and I talk to each other every day about you and how I stayed away. I never had much to offer in terms of worldly gifts. My love for you, however, is forever there. Unlike my words, it never hesitates. It is thunderous. It is wondrous. It is here to stay.

Fast and furious, the urge to be around you roars over me once more. One more evening has arrived after another day without you. 24 more hours have come and gone. Yet, my old frame is still the same one.

Though I loved and will love you infinitely, my outer Self is known for its negligent expressions. Of this flaw, even my One-and-Only had her share. My thoughtless ways of the past undress my soul today, leaving it totally bare.

Forgive me for my phone calls’ rarity! Forgive me for all those times when I was absent from your lives! Forgive me for who I am not and have not been able to be.

You have loved me unconditionally. I know, I have missed my chance to be with you as often as I could. I wish wholeheartedly once again that I would be understood. 

From my Letter-Poems from a Beloved (published on June 21, 2020 by Inner Child Press, Ltd.)

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“Against the Stream”

Against the Stream

My nap was quite troubled.
A vivid dream sequence haunted me.
Though utterly disturbing,
I will never call it a nightmare.
You were in it. You, in all your beauty.

We didn’t move our lips even once,
but we did talk. Quite extensively.
I was not yet retired; just done with the day.
You appeared to me when I was ready to go home.
I was tired. In fact, exhausted. In dire need for a ride.

You looked about 40.
8 years before your death.
As well-dressed as always,
still donning a set of full hair.
Cancer-free as I have best known you to be.

For barely a minute, I was in my office
to get a few more items and my coat;
you were gone the next moment.
I found myself outside. Feeling lost.
We were to meet by your car. Near the garden.
Both, non-existent in reality.

Crowds began to gather around my suddenly little self.
There was no sight of you anywhere.
Only bodies, countless bodies, walking aimlessly.
A gigantic fish tank then appeared right before my eyes.
The garden behind it seemed so far away. Unreachab-ly far away.

I wish that I could have stayed in the realm of my nap.
If only I had stayed asleep for a few more moments!
I would have found you. I would have hugged and kissed you
one more time. Not for the last time, but one more time.

(c) hülya n. yılmaz, November 21, 2020

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“a balancing act”

she has been tip-toeing
through a magical garden
of her innocence and imagination,
oblivious to her surroundings

all around her, sorrow persisted tirelessly   
only a few had the luxury to live in her bubble
everyone was facing a fatal struggle
she stayed put in her safe world

then came the word
that she had to grow up

she thus met life’s reality
and began to dwell in agony
anguish turned into a steady companion
the entire globe was fighting for a breath

the vile hands of death suffocated the ordinary
those who reigned still luxuriated in good health and joy
their ploys poured down on the common folk as acid rain,
and boasted about their power to inject grief-laden miseries 

countless souls were drowning in pain
while some people took delight in opulence,
their future intact – with not a single worry,
others faced a violent end, day after day

those heedless of the real danger of the times
complained, for they had to remain self-confined
sensible rulers were scarce across the globe

to act promptly in the face of threats to health

facts about the dead and the dying
failed to have the human race unite
under their clueless leaders, masses opted to ignore
the necessity to keep the continental divide

as days grew old and nights signaled despair
medical staff everywhere
endangered their lives with no fear
even then when essential supplies were bare

for the survivors on Earth
to breathe anew for another day
emerged as an erratic gift from the grim reaper,
one that too many could not spare 

*This poem was published in Corona . . . Social Distancing, an international anthology made available to the field of literature by Inner Child Press International on May 5, 2020.

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