Istanbul Skyline Watercolor
The Reluctant Orientalist (9.16.16)
Like a lover whose time with her beloved feels far too brief,
leaving Turkey fills me with longing and melancholy.
Old anxieties creep back into my bloodstream and spread like poison,
As visions of gilded gates and Gulhane gardens fade into ghostly memories.
I had not expected to feel so safe in a land still reeling from bombings and bloodshed,
Unsure of when the next would strike.
Here, somehow, I feel a sense of belonging,
I see in the chaos of Istanbul reflections of my own complexity,
I see in its sand-colored streets reflections of my own complexion
And it all comforts me like a sweet, simple lullaby.
The constructs of East and West blur beyond recognition.
Domes become satellites, minarets become rockets,
And my heart soars with them into the heavens,
Where I am seduced by history’s romanticized revisions
That promise to save me from my confusion
Like Sirens trying to lure Odysseus to his death
As I feel God rise inside me for a fleeting moment,
I recall with longing a time when this feeling came to me more easily.
Then I hear a ding from my phone: A Muslim woman in Queens has been killed.
I pay my respects with sad yet removed silence,
Recalling the imams who, only two weeks before, collapsed like twin towers.
Then I turn again toward the Istanbul horizon,
Rising lines of acute minarets descend sharply into deep city-street canyons
as steadily as my thankfully still-beating heart. I stare as if this skyline
Holds my only hope of finding comfort in this harsh, lonely world.
How can you know the weight of a burden, until you feel the weight of its release?
Shoeless Syrian refugees follow me with words I can barely understand
Their confusion and desperation I cannot begin to comprehend.
How could I ever explain that I ran from safety toward bombs
Hoping to escape a growing numbness born of luxury
While they ran from bombs toward safety
And we wound up here in the same city.
My throbbing guilt drains me of the empathy I thought I had
Leaving me with nothing to offer but a few Lira in their hands.
The sun-glistening waters of the Bosphorus below
Still sing the same centuries-old song of adaptation and renewal
Blue waves curve and curl like calligraphy, then disappear like tribes.
I imbibe its waters and become drunk with ecstasy.
The city’s deep kisses makes my head spin like a whirling dervish.
Is this the transcendence that Rumi spoke of?
Or just a selfish jetsetter’s fantasy?
I worry that this lust will lead only to discontent
Once I touch back down and daily life is recommenced
Can I live in this world without feeling a need for fantasy?
Can I love in this world without feeling caught between joy and agony?
Rumi asks, Why are you so busy with this or that or good or bad?
He says, Pay attention to how things blend, because it’s all One in the end.
One cannot divide and love the way empires divide and conquer
One can only love by knowing that they can never possess.
Churches become mosques, mosques become churches
Fantasy and ecstasy become everyday complexity
I become land and air belonging nowhere and everywhere
I swirl like Turkish marble and elude shape and form
This is the freedom I am seeking now
A freedom that feels no need to somehow