Poem: Say "Yes" to Where You Are
This poem was first published in Cirque Journal.
Say "Yes" to Where You Are
Just arrived: Anchorage teemed with rain, and in a cab
from the airport’s not-here-not-there, the driver’s accent might
take you to Europe, Mideast, or Asia. Yellow cabs,
a line of sleeping men, feet tossed up, limbo
of reclined seats, except the young man with the minivan
front of the line, eager to take my bag—he ushered me in
where the seats were spread with curtains, fleur-de-lys
printed, bagging, too big for the space; their brocaded cords swung, trippers,
from the seat-backs. He punched buttons, started the meter. I gave
the address, carefully enunciating, clarified “between Gambell and Ingra.”
The meter climbed its 25-cent increments, every few strokes
of the wipers. “Cun yu find uddress?” Before I realized
he meant me, I recognized, “He’s Turkish,” and heard again
Buyurun, word of welcome, even in a space not your own, unsaid
partner to his gracious movements when he let me in. I suggested
a route, heard incomprehension in silence. He passed me the
cellphone: an uncle? “I’m sorry, he’s new”—same accent, aged and fluent.
(New to what? To Anchorage, rain, soon snow? To speaking
English? To driving?) I repeated the address, sent the phone
forward. He listened. “Evet,” he said. “Evet...eh-vet,” then
mellifluous syllables I couldn’t parse. Some languages have
no “yes” at all; I can’t think of any, save Turkish and Magyar,
that award it two syllables. They seemed a luxury in
his mouth. “Evet.” I understand. “Ehvet.” Got it. “EEh-vet.”
C’mon Uncle, gimme a break! I’m doing my best here.
On buses in Turkey, the conductor heralds journey’s end
with “Evet. Istanbul.” “Evet. Izmir.”— “Yes.
Here we are. Yes. This city.” Being here in this city, a named
place of arrival, is what made my driver new: an apologetic term.
The meter kept climbing as we drove the streets and I
pushed aside uncharitable suspicion of meanders (word coined
from a river in Turkey) to hike up the fare. Who am I to know
Anchorage so well? Not being new matters less
than Uncle implied. I could see the driver’s face in his mirror: black bangs
halfway down his forehead; heavy brows crowding close
over deepset eyes: so much like one of my cousins, he looked...
What are we doing here—we people of olives, grapes
and figs—in this gray sprawl? His eyes flicked toward mine
in the mirror—caught, I turned, stared out at the rain. You
could have gone to Germany, where there are millions who speak
your language, spread curtains on seats (as my mother also does); or to London,
to Green Lanes, where bakeries featuring the gamut from magnificent
frosted cakes to the flat lavoush my mother loves proclaim Siçak
Ekmek for “Hot Bread”; social clubs are called Dostlar; there’s olive bars
at the markets; Hurriyet on the newsstands, men (who look like but unlike
men in my family) sitting outside Dostlar in white shirts, reading Hurriyet
with its tissue blue paper, or playing pool inside, white lino-tiled floor
like the stone-tiled white floors of the Middle East. Why here? And I—
I said yes to a risky love and the opening of a door I would never
have approached; to seeing a place through others’ eyes: better
to have risked… Still the wipers,
25 cents more. There is no “Green Lanes” here. No place of reminding,
where we may feel close that world of sun-drench, olives
figs and grapes. Eyes down, cousin: through the rain, let’s
hold remembered words and smells, threads of our fraying curtains.
When lost, push your knuckles into your eyes, squeeze forth a ration
of those home colors, brighter than this climate’s sun can cast.
Eyes down: as we arrived, he said a soft “Yes.” I wanted
to thank him Teşekul as I paid. The word formed, no air
came to launch it. Money passed silent, he drove away.
First published in Cirque Journal Vol. 4.2, Summer 2013