Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Clash of Translations

by Elif ┼×afak
from the Turkish Daily News, Dec. 10, 2006

The other day I was watching a U.S. TV series with Turkish subtitles when I heard the leading female character exclaim, “Oh, just ignore him, he is so philistine…” All at once, there appeared the Turkish subtitle on the screen and to my astonishment, I noticed the word “philistine” being translated as “Filistinli.” Thus distorted, the whole sentence had become “Oh, just ignore him, he is so Palestinian…” I stared at the screen, flabbergasted.

[ click headline for rest of commentary ]

[ Elif ┼×afak will read at Elliot Bay Books Feb. 9 ]

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Driving a white county car
to weigh a baby,
to lend an ear to a mother three days old,
the nurse is stopped by a motorcade—
engines rumbling, lights sparkling
to the horizon of Pac Highway
like an angry Christmas tree.
Near the cemetery, men and women
in stiff jackets, green and gold,
line the sidewalk,
faces tightened, hiding tears.
White gloves rise up in the air.
The coffin comes draped in a flag.

The young mother’s aunties and her own mother
live across four countries’ borders.
Her neighbors come and go, 747’s
leaping from the tarmac.
Her husband is her only one
and he is always working.
But the baby’s fine. Eyes are white,
diapers wet, her lungs are strong.
The nurse tells secrets of the first milk,
checks her watch
and promises to return.

In the breakroom, she reads headlines
skipped since Sunday
about the lawyer who came home to White Center
to become a cop,
beloved by all accounts.
Even addicts and delinquents
who sat handcuffed in his backseat
cry outside the precinct. She reads headlines
about the man who shot him.
They say in the afternoon
he made another man lie down naked in the street
and shot him too.
Before dawn, he aimed a bullet at himself.

She shakes her head and wonders.
What makes a man thirst for blood,
for others’ and his own?

What happened to his mother?
And to her mother?
And to hers?

Ode to Walnuts

Nestled in the pantry corner
among shadows and canned tomatoes,
a paper sack of walnuts
are keeping to themselves.
Hard-shelled weevils
turning their backs to the world;
a colony of knowing spheres,
recalling life among the branches,
singing secret songs
of rain and leaves, wind and blossom,
the mythic fall to earth,
the fall to disparate fates:
to be hoarded by squirrel,
trampled underfoot,
or lifted between thumb and forefinger,
and dropped gingerly into burlap sack.

A paper sack of walnuts,
cool, dry and fissured as a grandmother’s cheek.
Tricksters, making fools of hungry eaters
holding slippery nutrcrackers in unsteady hands,
they leap away and fall again,
uncrackable, to the floor.

Forgive me, my little ones,
my walnut darlings,
for the final vise grip,
the cruel hammer blow,
to expose your crunchy flesh,
scent of wood and earth.

(Why must we hurt the ones we love?)

I will honor you,
your flavor of autumn and smoke,
crowning hot cereal with your proud segments.,
layering you lovingly into baklava—
phyllo, walnut, butter, honey,
phyllo, walnut, butter, and honey—
and you will live on in the warm gazes
of brown-eyed children
whose palms cradle cookies
of chocolate
and spice
and walnuts.

[ inspired by Pablo Neruda's Ode To My Socks and an Anna Balint workshop at Richard Hugo House. ]