BY CARL BOON
Now, as the weather’s turned warm in Manisa, the old men of the Yeşil Saray Apartments emerge. Having shed their winter clothes, they greet each other in the courtyard, timidly at first, then with the joy that signals each has survived. Much has happened since October, but this year most of it—Maşallah, they say—has been mundane. Mehmet’s blood pressure has receded. Alper’s cherry trees in the village are doing well. Berk’s son-in-law got a job in Istanbul. They do not mention the recent earthquakes, for to do so might bring more. These men are superstitious. They don’t pray five times a day, but they’re careful in how they frame their longings and fears. God mustn’t be disturbed.
I moved among them when I was younger and listened to them closely. I watched them perform their rituals of spring: the scrubbing of the samovar, the sweeping of the benches, the scraping off of winter. The days before them now will mostly be the same: games of Rummikub and glasses of tea, perhaps a little beer or rakı on a Sunday afternoon, debates on soccer and politics. A presidential election is scheduled for May, and while most won’t vote for the incumbent, some will, believing that he’s done more good than bad. “He’s a decent man with a cloudy soul,” says Aybers, “but even decent men are allowed to falter.” Hakan disagrees. He’ll vote for the opposition party, just as he’s done for the last twenty years. They don’t think it matters anyway. “The price of bread is the price of bread. We all pay the same.”
The fact is, some pay more than others, but that’s not to be debated now. They have more pressing concerns this Wednesday: new umbrellas for the courtyard (the old ones are spindly skeletons of what they were), perhaps black mulch this spring instead of the usual red, and some of those citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes away. Their lives are small and they want small things. A mini-fridge would be nice beside the samovar, but the super says that’s not on the agenda, at least not this year. It would be good to be one of these men someday. To be insignificant and enjoy soup. To gaze out upon the world knowing it no longer belongs to them. It belongs to their grandchildren now.
Darkness has fallen, and it’s time for them to go back inside. Their wives are waiting. Their TVs are tuned to the news, and most of it is bad, but it’s been bad forever. Earthquakes, intrigue, rumors of war, fewer fish in the Black Sea. They all miss Atatürk, but he’s not coming back. They miss winter Ramadans, Türkan Şoray, Kemal Sunal, and how the food tasted in the 1950s when they were children. The fruit was better, the rakı softer, the women they didn’t marry so lithe. And in two months the hot Meltem winds, common to Manisa, will glide through the mountains and make them wish for winter again.
The Bronze Age
BY CARL BOON
When asps swarmed the Bohemian lowlands and boys carried flint sheathed in wool, marauders crowded the night fires, waiting. Soon a girl would appear, round in the belly, a trader’s wife, unversed in local law. She would err. She would step in the wrong direction, crack a snail with her heel, cry softly when her blood stained the soil. That would permit them to approach her.
It was almost a game, the seizure, the torture, the way their arms moved wildly in the air. The unborn was the prize, the girl the vehicle, and all understood there would have to be a time for softness, too, for blankets and hot fish and the building of better fires. Winter was coming, and her remnant clothes would not keep her warm. Remember this, they called to each other in the dark.
What we call March and mark with thoughts of our Savior, they called Almost, waiting stealthily around her, sharpening their implements, boiling water from the Elbe. It was the delicate time, the time when death and life edged, and they had to be prepared. Her cries would startle them, bring doubt, but they had to be prepared. No moths could tour her room, no wolves could scent the blood eventual.
Beneath their gods of star and rain they waited. Around the low-burning fires outside they waited, rudimentary but wise. The born would be a sacrifice, the fulfillment of a wish so long delayed, a gift, the restoration of their harmony. They wanted a boy, but a girl would do. Worst of all would be a pair, for that meant the elders would be called to intervene: deciding which for the gods and which to feed forever.
Today the girl rests in a grave made of oak. Today, inside an unseen Black Forest mound, she rests, unable to recall what made her holy three thousand years ago. She’d only come for berries, to recover a sliver of tin her brother had buried at the base of a walnut tree. Today we wonder what she felt as the baby was taken from her, its tiny shadow a dance on the walls of the room they gave her.