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.