Poetry from South-Eastern Turkey tour

Some impressions by our visiting poet from New Zealand, Terence O’Neil Joyce:

These are sketches from a too short a trip to south-eastern Turkey, where we were led with sensitivity to some of the most interesting sights.  It was soon into this journey that I heard an inner voice pronounce, “Let the heart take the pictures and let the camera sleep” so that helped in putting to sleep not only the camera but all the chatter so I felt more connected to all around me and inside me. We started off by flying to


We are locked in by clean cut stone,
Limestone that is, dead fish, culled from the sea
Intolerable weight for us but good for
a million year’s of fish bones and any other
crustacea happening along to be compressed
by history while the sun and moon lingered
overhead and new fish joined the deep in
a never ending line pressed like leaves and
flowers into history’s book.
We are here in an odd museum surrounded
by cans of coke and plastic bottled water,
glass bottles from another age, tinn’d copper
things, for coffee and maybe potions to treat
aching limbs while other limbs, tiny reach
beyond the cage, tiny monkeys, with laughing
eyes, don’t monkey with me unless you have
a handful of nuts to give, then I’ll read your
fortune in a chatter language you used
to use but have long given up.
While we are here, just outside, along
the limestone walls, across the dried up moat
a string of characters stand, not sure why
maybe just to add some colour like Rembrandt did
when his portraits got too dull and he would lighten
up an eye with a golden light, a rose, bulbous
with too much wine but do these characters in metal
stand for the wounded, if so that’s fine, for them
the mantle of history has fallen but I couldn’t leave
it there a second sight pushed in, in the tiny coffins
of pistachio, clasped inside I saw a sweetness, I looked
again and then in the misty steam that rose from the
market seller’s charcoal fire, and kebas roasted and let
off a mouth watering smell I saw Selçuk bite into
a ripe tomato so the juice run down his mouth and
in that tiny moment, as though any moment can be
construed as tiny when you can see and feel the whole
of creation revealed if you are holy enough and you
have paid you dues up in some solitary cave with
only God for company, yes in that moment there was
a picture revealed, an instant joy, an icon of pure
joy, and this from a lonely tomato taken from its friendly
place with a hundred others, so in that moment it was
as Rupert Brooke saw it in ‘Dining Room Tea‘ and,
in an instant knew, that time stood still.
That then became a memorial for all those gone in
1922, from the fractured market place all came still,
together with us all, all contained, not dead in some
far off distant land but here with us now an ever
living testament cleaning up the stupidity of I am
right and you are wrong and only I have the
ticket to Nirvana, Heaven, who cares, whatever
is not whatever it is now, let me tempt you
come through the doorway, be still, listen and
find that all the peace and happiness is here
within you heart, let the camera sleep, let the
chatter die, sit quietly, observe you hands, your
palms see the lines as a map to togetherness
and know with absolute certainty all the dead
are here outside the clasp of time, then feel
that overwhelming Love and know this is a dream
enjoy, a dream not mine but God’s, Allah,

Gaziantep June 1st 2012

There were other impressions but since we are, or at least I am, on the subject of prose, poetry call it what you will, words attempting to convey feelings. We move on over narrow roads, highways, dams huge rocks blasted out of the hillsides revealing veins of iron, gneiss and no doubt other minerals not given geological scrutiny up to another mountain and see the implausible remains of antiquity, a site apparently subjected to some massive force for the some had the look of ceramic, the gouge in the earth as though a great hand had scooped it out thrown it on the fire and so melted poured it back again it dripped down the hillside like an overfill of lentil soup, or better described as the overflow of metal from the furnace as smelting goes on, sparks fly and liquid iron pours sometimes where it should and oft times on the floor as men dance away wary of being burned.

Gobeklitepe (Pot Belly Hill)

I was full of anticipation,
thoughts, feelings, ideas.
As best I could I refused that and
asked, pleaded, if I could be emptied out,
completely as I wanted to see and feel
this place, then thankfully the feelings and
the thoughts seeped out, ran away, like
a river, like the shining blue Euphrates,
flying away like the strange birds who had
residence on a limestone cliff and were
want to fly away to Madagascar, itinerants
staying for a while in tiny wooden cabins
attached to the cliff, so I got to ‘ Pot Belly mountain’
with less than the usual luggage, when I got there
and saw and felt the place, it was though it, the
place, was helping me to understand it. Then
thoroughly absorbed I had this dream, vision, it
had happened before at Gerga. I welcomed
it, wasn’t surprised. In this dream I met three Arabs,
one the spokesman who seemed to know me as I
knew him and recognised his pushi, flowing with
colours of deep red and blue and his friends, one
dark with a new beard and one with no beard but
eyebrows with enough hair to make one and
with his moustache very Arab, I called out ‘Salaam
Allah Qum’, they replied in unison ‘Allah Qum Salaam’ and they all smiled
together, then we stopped and grouped together as though we had an appointment. We all looked at the Sema, the sky, and I found myself saying,
‘It came from heaven’, they nodded, ‘A ball of fire, whoosh, pointing
at the melted earth, a fine ring of melted ceramic like a newly fired bowl, it
took every thing’. They had come close and I saw the understanding in
their eyes, their bodies leaning close and murmuring, ‘It is so’
‘Evet’ in unison, ‘Evet’ in unison again.
Then it was still and those that were far away came, and those that died
and all the creatures that were there were gone, and one amongst them who was
a leader ceased from skinning the gazelle that he had laid over his knees, he put
the flint tool aside, I picked it up where it had lain, this man’s eyes were
the colour of amber, the same colour as the brooch that I had bought from
the monastery shop for Filiz, I hope that she will continue to wear this because
it has some significance to this story, this dream. The the tall man who was
a leader gathered all around, took a stick from an elder and drew a circle in the
ashes, we will do this he said, in his language which was older than Aramaic but
from which Aramaic came, this he said, ‘Was a message, fire from another
a world where out ancestors are waiting, listening to us now, arms outstretched
and waiting for us and all the creatures that with us those that fed us, those that
gave us messages of where to go and what to do and when to speak to those who
have passed beyond, So we will carve these symbols on the stones and he
showed then drawing each in the ash and when the sun next rises by the sacred
tree we will gather, as the sun and the great yellow globe takes the night from
the sky then we will gather, see the breath from our brothers and sisters, touch
them, hold them and we will dance until we can dance no more and when the
dawn comes it will be done.’
The three Arabs left as I awoke and I joined them and we all ran down the hill
together, laughing with joy in our hearts, ‘Evet, Evet, we shouted…..
Inshallah, Allah Akbar, God is Great’……………

Gobeklitepe (Pot Belly Hill) 2 June 2012

We visited two Syrian Orthodox monasteries (Mor Gabriel at Midyat and Deyrul Zafaran at Mardin) where Aramaic was still spoken and indeed it was also written over the entrance portal framed by olive trees that has early olives already beginning to grow.  The first one we visited had been renovated rather than restored.  It looked as though the sandstone blocks making up the building had been sandblasted and in a way something of the character has been lost. The novices/monks if I can call them that because they came across as regular nice looking young men who could have easily changed their casual gear into suit and tie and gone off to work in the bank. I saw not a Priest nor Patriarch not even a Metropolitan the like of the holy men of the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia nor the bass singing voice of the Father, bearded who looked after his flock in Auckland, helped himself to cake and strong tea after service and chatted, friendly, to all the congregation. None the less the Church we saw first had a charm if only that it was very ancient and had worshippers in over the centuries to be anointed with holy wax and wine, despite the not so agreeable other followers who could make life difficult.

The second monastery was quite different it seemed more connected to the people, there was a moaning young woman being cared for, she was in distress and cried as she fumbled with the key for her room on the first floor open quadrangle looking over rich fields dotted with olive, roses and pistachio. Here you could buy fine jewellery drink khave, cay, pepsi cola, and su.

Beneath the church proper, well below was a vaulted chamber, rectangular with a narrow, very narrow window placed strategically to allow in the sun’s light at a predestined time, then there would it was told be animals sacrificed, lamb or sheep most likely as there was but little room for anything larger, anything that would fit down the narrow stairs. This was a relic of Zorastrian worship where the Sun rather than any other kind of God we may or may not be familiar with would be worshipped as the giver of life, which of course it is, though there may well be a god behind the curtain switching on and off the lights.

So here is a testament to the first monastery:

Olive, wait
as quiet sentinels
Green against
the sandstone walls
Gently carved, some
with geometric line
traced across to meet
a line of ancient script
Aramaic which looked
somehow the forerunner
of Hebrew, maybe, maybe not.
I wanted to hear the sacred
tongue for in this Jesus would
have voiced his parables, spoken
to Mary and to Lazarus, to John
and Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke,
Phillip and all who would come
to listen to a Holy Man.
‘I am Petrus’ the young man said
to me, in Aramaic, which had no
familiar ring but a sweetness that also
lit the group around with soft light, his
smile went with the harmony of the sound.
Then in the high domed room there
was a Paternal stillness, I saw no Priest,
no candles lit but could feel them anyway.
The stillness and the mystery of the cross,
Jesus crucified, arms outstretched, nailed,
a crown of thorns on a forgiving head
here were the intersecting lines joined
vertical and horizontal, his message,
all meeting in the heart, placed as we could
be, being Human, meet ourselves at that
intersection which is ‘ Now’ no other place,
here time halts loses all significance and
we are bid to give no thought of time past
and time to come, the mirror cleansed
of me and mine into thee and thine, it is
true that men and women are want
to know the truth, given a glimpse of the
sacred, then they are moved to pray, no
matter the time and place, be it kitchen
open ground, the forest, a lover’s arms
to rest where time has lost its grip
and we have a taste of Universal Grace
to be what we are, remembered Self
that we cannot ever deny nor forget……………..

  Mardin, 3 June 2012

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