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from the April 2015 issue

Before Sunrise

for h.s.

The long silence is broken by a buzz of descending words about how the day stretches like a deformed piece of chewing gum. Ever since you lost the taste in your mouth, it leaves behind a couplet: you bled like the fountains of Julfa when I had just returned from Kars. And the little boy poked around in the bloody pit with a wooden ice cream stick, dividing it into two parts like the Red Sea, performing a unique miracle. You bled after the gym with muscles tight from the heavy weights and with a sweaty mole on your eyelid from the treadmill, and after Paris when you threw up in the courtyard of the most beautiful museum and washed yourself with the water of a drinking fountain.

As you enter the city, there are mounds of garbage and seated next to them are people who, with their idle and bitter gazes, immediately recognize you through a terrible cloud of construction dust as a foreign element standing next to newly erected red buildings. Among the ruins surrounding me, towers have risen in whose shadows cats meow lazily. But Kars begins at the fortress and ends at the front of the door of the Apostolic church. I wrap myself in a flowery cloth and I’m given permission to enter, and after I enter I will ask: “Father of mine, are you still here?”

You don’t believe in any kind of salvation, because the undone fetus has already left you and thrown itself in an empty bucket. I’ve accepted the continuation of your birth from your head and I’ve played with your dense hair like the woman’s kerchief that rippled in the air and prevented crows from flying against the motorcycle she sat on. He squints at people, flees, and again pushes himself towards the people, and like a mongoose a miracle arises: he silently approaches my rocking chair sunk in the sand of the lakeshore to serve me fresh fish soup. Like a small-footed animal leaving faint tracks on soft sand, she climbs up the spiral staircase of the minaret adorned with mosaics of a thousand colors, turning around on every step to make sure they follow her to the top, to look, from the highest point, at the tiny sea and the clustered island in the distance that calls to them, with its inner peals of Sunday bells, to come by ferry with paddling natives who have spun legends about the island and about love.

In the evenings, when the persecuted trolley makes its routine rounds toward its final destination, nightclubs turn on their red lights, and posters of women leaning on their hips appear in the windows. We reach the square by circumventing pickpockets, thieves, dark and narrow passages, and male prostitutes who wait for phone calls, because “slut” is not in any way a term under female monopoly.

“Don’t rape that woman.”

“...?”

“She’s got AIDS.”

The city squares never intersect, never disappear, they are crowded with foreigners, with children, with crying women, with fountains that shower down salty drops of weakness from the women, salty drops born out of the women’s inability to love. Crying is one of women’s habits, not crying is an expression of conceit, thinking that I’m the exception and that I have easily found the otherness of existence, ending up in a retirement home, without children, dreaming of airy white bread in oblivion: loneliness is me. Now you’re probably roaming the streets in the hopes of finding a job in the absence of your former friends, without their good old boisterous greetings, with your downcast and indecisive gaze fixed to your fastened buckles, you continue to walk on monotonously—be careful, don’t fall: he is inside of you. Feel the rumble of the underground train with the whole surface of your feet. Moving in unclear directions, the trains transport strangely sizeable, waterproof containers—their expiration date: eternity. They give authority to the people, they turn them into widows, they destroy high-rise buildings, they rip the earth’s ozone layer. The crust of the earth shakes with the rumble of the state-owned trains, but the governing bodies are too busy with their electoral campaigns. It is imperative to follow the safety instructions, to turn off televisions during lightning storms, to leave behind a half-watched movie, and to go to the voting booth without knowing the details of the candidates’ lives. Your name on the voters list is next to those of dead people, and before the law you will cast your vote for equal rights because it is no longer possible to live without the hope of rebirth when half-naked Venuses wonder at the beauty of their bodies under the secret peering gaze of burly men behind thick curtains. M. frequently follows me from the fifth floor of the opposite apartment block, especially when I open the fridge and hold up an entire portion of nutrition in front of him that is enough to sustain me for a few more days. Collapsed facedown on the bed, I’m shaking with fear. Answer my call, please, I want to tell you that the mosque in Yazd has been blown up. Earthquakes are still to come.

Highlanders with fur hats are sitting around a fire cleaning the barrel of their gun and counting the cartridges that they will point at their targets—emptying their guns into someone or other. Sparks of fire fly all around them. Come, let’s go up the mountain and eat meat from a freshly slaughtered animal. Before the last sunrise, let's form a circle and go around the fire. You move to the middle of the circle and freely rotate your arms, an embroidered white handkerchief squeezed between your fingers. Woman, any way you cut it, you’re beautiful, don’t turn yourself over to debauchery and gentle smiles. The smooth caresses from all sides are ready to slap your identity down to the couch.

Ostra was telling us: an Indian man rejects mercy, and the compassion of the beggar kneeling next to a mound of tropical fruit is vindictive. He demands retribution against for all those who harmed his family. I hate my homeland during the elections. The streets are overrun with crowds of people cheated out of promises for a good life. After the elections, behind trees and under thatched roofs, people in hiding are killed and left behind as nothing more than ashes in urns. The newspapers keep silent, only a handful of witnesses tell foreigners. Ostra smoked the whole time she spoke. We had already agreed on the meeting place, the day, the type of cigarettes, but I never met her again. Under the pretext of pursuing her studies, she never came back to her abandoned homeland, she probably went to the other side of the ocean, hoping to establish a life on the new continent, surrounded by people of loose morals.

Each of us is led to our own hospital, curled up in our own case; the bundle of cells will scratch its way out one day to be photographed in black underwear for the first page of a magazine. Carelessly sitting on the window with tightly sealed lips, she holds back her laughter. Her tights border her bent knees; instead of her absent eyes, the tights end the last miracle that differentiates them from the reflection in the glass. She’ll come out to dig her hand into the sun-cracked soil, tear off a piece of volcanic lava, and convince herself that powerful civilizations have fallen before, like Pompeii and Herculaneum. She approached the end of her own world, independent of the heretic prophecies that are the result of uncultured deliberations. Like rain, they fall on those who often look up to the sky, substituting the blessing of the Supreme Being while hunting. They follow on its heels the leopard that has thrown its orange-ish coat with black spots on the oak dining table as a festive tablecloth for the guests coming to the impending dinner. Like your skin exhausted from persecution, it has lost the most important ability to recover. The old scars have already become history and call to mind past descents into darkness. I swaddled you in white gauze when your helpless body bled at my feet. I rub the medicinal salve into the deepest wounds and wait for your rebirth, because resurrections happened in the past, like Lazarus, and now those will be resurrected who are ready to fly off a bridge without letting out a screech. A sensitive woman commits suicide. A thinking woman slowly drowns in eternal sorrow in the streets of Kars.

A donkey slowly descends a slope. A woman pierced up to her eyeballs, quietly sitting cross-legged, sways out of her eternal immobility like an amulet for repelling the evil eye, now from the bumpiness of the road, now from the thoughtless lashes directed at the donkey by its owner. The narrow streets skirt the antiquity of the city, running past flat-roofed houses made of river stones and baths with sharp-edged domes. A white-bearded old man recounted legends about a soldier who had died of an enemy bullet during the defense of the fortress. He swung his cane in the air and simultaneously rained down curses on the killer’s heirs and on their own heads into all eternity.  Children who had stepped on the everyday namaz carpet were running after me with bare feet screaming in English: “Kars castle! Our Kars castle!” The city, choking with mosques, rises before me in all her otherness and quietly reminds me that I either have to abandon her or to conquer her all over again. I hurry away from Kars, the tall buildings, the church, and the old man to return to bathe in the baths, to be cursed again, and to live in the city.

I never thought that the coinciding rumble of shots could shake the mountaintops with that kind of force. The impression was such that it seemed as if they had been waiting for a long time for that day, they had prepared patiently, and now the wrath of the highlander erupted like a volcano. The never-ending formation of the underground trains wasn’t even that unbearable. It’s as if it had received its own justification: especially after the plans of the new station, the architect was whispering how we should build it so that those trains that don’t know how to swim in the sea can climb the mountains. At least one time, one last time…

I look for your name on the list of victims that grows each day, promising myself that if you die, I will torment your body, I will steal it and take it to my hiding place where you will never be found. I will lock the lid of the coffin tightly from the inside, and lying shoulder to shoulder, we will speak in whispers about politics; the white balloons soaring in the air suffered a sudden death from the burning fire.

I hear a screech: Victory, a new baby was born, a woman threw herself off a bridge.

Then silence and something remarkable: yearning.

Read more from the April 2015 issue
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