Quite possibly well and truly
Away from the World
That Child Never Amounted to Much

Author: Safiye Can
Translator: Marilya Veteto Reese


Quite possibly well and truly

Maybe home is a Kurt Cobain line
an Attila Ilhan verse
a thousand year old yearning, the hair gone grey
the scent of rain atop the pasture
a view from the window, black and white
foliage on a rutted path one autumn day
or Uncle Cemil with his woolen cap, when he laughs.

Maybe home is the shooting star
over Llorett de Mar
that one millisecond or the Republic of Adygeja
is the municipal library of Offenbach
that houses Ernst Buchholz inside
or the key to the door of a house, handed
to someone in exile

Maybe home is something dead-serious
with a moustache
or a barefoot-run bit of bridge over water
the fragility of the poppy blossom
of our childhood
a callithrix jacchus, a marmoset
or a Hello-Kitty-balloon
hiding away in cotton candy

Maybe home is a nomad in Tuareg garb
racing here and there
or a Mickey Mouse shirt and laced-up shoes
at the Baltic
and hair twisted into a braid
is a shattered glass you step on
that unexpected pang in the vicinity of your chest

Maybe home is falling into your own bed
after nights of partying, jeans and sneakers still on
and stopping short and stopping short.
Is a couple dancing to the beat of a tango forgetting themselves
the sight of two white-brown horses
aometimes Terminal B of the Frankfurt Airport
or just simply Fouzia’s voice.

Maybe home is the root of eightor a coiled trunk-like thing topped with cinnamon
is a chameleon adapting itself.
Maybe though it’s Frau Grün
on the ground floor, who rants about everything



How much should you give up shed how many grams of your soul change yourself how often when exactly to get where on whose whim Integration (a poem in the shape of a question mark)


Away from the World

If only I could hide myself away
from the world
behind your back
only sometimes peeking
in order to see, just to see
a little
whether way off there flowers bloom too

If I only could smile at a person
and thus take away all his woes
and then again could protect the animal
from the person
the most fragile insect, the most massive elephant.

If only I could hide myself away
from the world
with a handstand, just like that
closing my eyes and knowing
for a moment, just knowing:
out there is no war, nowhere
no person kills another person
no person kills an animal
absolutely nothing is being killed
not authorized not condoned
and there is no avarice.
And could laugh aloud
since everything else is absurd
would be so incredibly ab-solute-ly ab-surd

If only I could hide myself away
from the world
in a cloud perhaps
just peek out sometimes
to look down, just to look
a little
if down there children built sandcastles too
if bees flew, seals swam

If only I could hide myself away
from the world
behind your back
nevermore ruptured by reality
the reality would rupture
from all of the love of ours.


That Child Never Amounted to Much

But do not tell
my uncle please
that I became a poet
he’ll only start to cry again.



From:  Safiye Can, Kinder der verlorenen Gesellschaft (Children of a Lost Society), Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, 2017.



The Silence of Shimon

Author: Vladimir Vertlib
Translator: Marilya Veteto Reese


“Where’re you from?”
“I come from Klingonia.”
The man’s face doesn’t change. His smile seems artificial. His inflection shifts but the corners of his mouth remain firmly pointed upward. “Come to my shop!” he cries. “I show you. You want souvenirs? Something for your wife?”
“In Klingonia we don’t eat human food, we don’t buy what humans buy, we don’t consume things at all. I come from another planet, you see. I am not human, you see. We are not humans over there.”
The man is not deterred.
“Beautiful place, Klingonia,” he opines.
“Kronos planet,” I say.
“Yes, a wonderful place.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“I have many friends there.”
Has he really never heard of Star Trek, or is he just playing along?
“You know Captain Picard?” I ask him.
He looks at me in bewilderment for the first time, studying my face, probably trying to interpret my smirk correctly, and then says finally, “Yes, yes, nice guy. Come on, I’ll show you my shop, you won’t regret it, you’ll be surprised.”
“I have only Klingonian money.”
The man points to the money stall on the far end of square. “Over there you can exchange into Shekel.”
“I don’t think so,” I say.
It’s the third time today that I’ve been at the Jaffa Gate and the third time that the man is attempting to lure me into his souvenir shop. There are many kitschy shops in Old Jerusalem but they all pale in comparison to the items glittering in this man’s showcases. Portraits of the Virgin with luminescent blue glass eyes, rabbis with sidelocks made of marzipan, or handkerchiefs with a stylized depiction of the Wailing Wall are among the most harmless of the abominations.
Yet the persistence of the man deserves recognition. Perhaps I am not yet old enough to react with aplomb to such a trifle. Perhaps it annoys me that on this occasion, unlike both preceding times, I am unable to simply flee. My wife has gone into the Tourist Information Office, and because I did not wish to accompany her, we agreed upon this corner as a meeting place.
This time I cannot flee. And besides, Tanya is picking us up at the Jaffa Gate. She is due to arrive in ten minutes. I am curious where she is going to park given all the barricades and the crowds of people, or where she can even pull over in order to let us hop in.
I am tired, hardly slept the night before. If it were not for the shopkeeper, I could at least have a cigarette in peace and quiet. But he refuses to budge from my side. I notice that he even looks like a Klingon: broad face, furrowed forehead, plentiful hair, large, close-set eyes. Only the mustache disrupts the Klingonesque aura.
I begin telling a long story. The Klingon people, well-organized and as industrious as a population of ants, half-human, half-machine, are an aggressive species that has expanded throughout outer space and enriched its empire by assimilating other peoples. The man listens attentively. His expression darkens. Yet the corners of his mouth continue to point relentlessly upward. “Yes, we assimilate you,” I explain, reflecting at the same time that it was perhaps not especially clever to tell an Arab in East Jerusalem that I have come to assimilate him. Besides, it suddenly occurs to me that it is the Borg and not the Klingons who assimilate other peoples. In the past I would never have confused Borg and Klingons, but my enthusiasm for Star Trek: The Next Generation is now some ten years in the past.
The Klingonesque Arab is not troubled by being assimilated.
“What do you like?” he asks me. “Come to my shop, I make you a good price, whatever you want to buy.”
“Nooo!” I screech, exasperated. “Forget it! No, no, no! Go away! Piss off! Please! Just disappear!”
The man says something in Arabic. It sounds like a major insult. The only word I understand is “khalab”—dog. Then he turns and walks away. My mood is ruined. Any other man would have thought, to hell with him, and forgotten the incident. But in my case, he lingers in my head to haunt me.
Among the remnants of the communist upbringing enjoyed by my parents during their school years that they then passed on to me was disdain for any type of wheeling and dealing, for “speculators, hucksters, or bargain-hunters.” Even in my youth, when I had scarcely any money, it would never have occurred to me to bargain a merchant down or to drive all over the city to purchase something on sale. In my interactions with lawyers I often felt that they acted like the small-time conman at the Vienna Naschmarkt, who swindled me by five schillings at his flea market stand and pulled a satisfied face when I didn’t immediately protest. My parents respected people who had a “decent profession”, a job and a steady wage, and who went about their work conscientiously, regardless of whether it gave them pleasure or not. The freelancers and wheeler-dealers, on the other hand, were nothing but a necessary evil. One needed them, but did not view them as equals. The wheeler-dealer bought a product as cheaply as possible in order to sell it at maximum profit. The successful man was he who knew how to persuade a customer to buy at an inflated price. Several conmen competing was called capitalism, and this was nonetheless better than the state-directed economy in which only the state and its highest echelons swindled all the others without competition. Communism was an idealistic dream, a utopia that could not function because not all humans were honest or in possession of firm moral principals. When I went to college at eighteen to study socio-economics, I was astonished that others did not see things exactly as I did. Some attributed a positive value to the sheer acquisition of wealth.
I glance at my watch. It is five past six, no sign of Tanya, and my wife is still in the Tourist Office. The Klingon has gone on to find another victim, a young redhead in a straw hat. He pesters her until she finally disappears into his shop.
A quarter of an hour later my wife and I are standing outside the Jaffa Gate. The rooftops and the white facades of New City gleam in the light of the evening sun. Were I not so nervous, I could lose myself in the beauty of the scenery. It is neither the people nor the buildings, it is this light that makes Jerusalem into a sacred place, more so even than its elevation, the clear air, the white stone, the rustic landscape and the indisputable loveliness of this combination, this mixture of old and new, of sublime and shabby, and their baffling harmony, more than the historical knowledge and the religious sensibility that every visitor brings to it and envelopes it with. The light serves as a catalyst, as a vehicle for pleasure or for orgiastic excess, depending on how far a person wants to go.
“I’ll call her up,” I say.
“Give it another five minutes,” my wife says. “You don’t know how many checkpoints or detours there are on an evening like this.”
“You’re right.”
Even I would have been enthused by the golden gleaming city wall in the light of the evening sun, were it not for all the Orthodox Jews hastening past me in their fervor to fall upon the center of the city in order to celebrate the Seder, the beginning of the festival of Passover, in the Jewish section of old Jerusalem. They deprive me of the ecstatic moment because they seem in such a rush and thus attract glares from the Arabic population. The presence of the security forces is massive. Nonetheless the police and soldiers try to keep in the background.
“Okay, now I’m going to call her,” I say.
In that moment, my cell rings.
“I am so sorry!” I hear Tanya’s voice say. “It’s just so typical of me. But there’s no moving forward or backward right here because…” For several seconds the reception is cut off.
“I’m stuck in my car on Latin Patriarchate Street… driving back… took a wrong turn… they won’t let me out again… because…”
“Tanya? …Tanya!”
“Tanya, we’ll come to you. You are just around the corner.”
It is only a couple of minutes from the Jaffa Gate to Latin Patriarchate Street. How did she manage to drive down that alley?
The alley is not even five yards wide. It winds up the hill and curves to the right behind the Latin Patriarchate, a massive, gloomy palace from the eighteenth century, only to branch into a series of even narrower alleys. No vehicle would fit through there, but Tanya only managed to drive some fifty meters further anyway. A delivery truck is making a turnaround impossible. Several children cluster around Tanya’s silver colored Toyota Corolla, which still looks relatively new. In that car I wouldn’t have even dared to drive into the vicinity of Old Jerusalem. Some of the children are drumming on the hood, others laugh or screech, one of them sticks out his tongue, another holds up his middle finger. The driver of the delivery truck, a middle-aged man in a grey suit coat, gets out and explains something in a mixture of English and Arabic, gesturing excitedly all the while. Tanya sticks her head out the side window, looks around for assistance and smiles abashedly. “Please,” she murmurs, “Please, would you be so kind to…” She sighs and leaves off. Is this the same woman who gave a brilliant speech before hundreds of people just yesterday and had masterfully handled embarrassing questions and agitators afterward by putting them in their places?
“Glad you two are here,” she said. “I drove in here to turn around and now I can’t get out anymore.”
“What made you think you could turn around in here?” I ask. “It would have been better…” My wife turns a stern look upon me and I fall silent.
The men sitting in plastic chairs in front of the coffeehouse down on the corner watch in amusement, smoking and grinning.
“You have to drive back, please!” says Tanya to the driver of the truck, probably not for the first time. “What shall I do? Tell me, what shall I do?”
The man screams, impertinent and obdurate, as only drivers in certain situations can be: “Go away! Go! Go! Move!”
“How can I possibly move if you are in my way?” Tanya’s voice remains quiet, unperturbed, more sad than anything else. “Do you think I can fly? What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see?”
Tanya tries to avoid the man’s eyes. Suddenly she reminds me of my mother when she was Tanya’s age: the same sadness in stress situations, this same subdued determination, the tendency to confront emotional excess and irrationality with logic. Her shoulders drooped, her back bent, and when I looked into her eyes, I slipped down into the chasm between hope and reality that got wider and wider with every word. The more clearly Mother outlined her position, the more I had the sense that she was about to collapse, roll up, hide herself in her own interior.
I wish Tanya would look people like that confidently in the eye, and put insolence in its place. Why did she immigrate twenty years ago from the Soviet Union, why did she go to all the trouble and arrive in Israel to make a new life for herself while Saddam’s missiles had landed in Tel Aviv, working her way up to the chairship of a German department and raising her two daughters? Who is she and who is that slimy fellow in the delivery truck?
“Why are you speaking English to him?” I ask her.
“He says he doesn’t speak Hebrew. The children don’t speak any Hebrew either, at least they claim they don’t. They keep trying to sell me something.”
“Of course they speak Hebrew,” I say. “They’re just pretending they don’t to annoy us…”
“Stop it!” interrupts my wife. “Now is not the time to discuss this.”
I get in the passenger side, my wife gets in the back. The driver of the delivery truck swears, and walks over to his truck. Backing up is a matter of precision, inasmuch as the pedestrians only move aside reluctantly and at the last moment.
“It probably wasn’t a good idea to meet at the Jaffa Gate, I’m sorry,” I say. “But since our hotel is in the old city and we aren’t familiar with Jerusalem…”
“I’m just incompetent,” Tanya explains.
We move toward the end of the alley at a walking pace. The shrill beep of the reversing delivery truck masks the noise emanating from the Jaffa Gate.
“Will you come to my shop?” I suddenly hear a familiar voice say, “It’s only round the corner. I’ll show you.” The grinning face of the Klingon shows up at the side window.
“No!” I cry.
“Yes, okay, show me, but I won’t visit it today,” says Tanya.
I am so surprised that I don’t contradict her, and before my wife can protest, the Klingon is sitting next to her on the back seat. I would like to turn around and launch myself at his throat.
I am mute. The Klingon keeps praising his shop to the heavens. My wife attempts to put more space between herself and him. It appears she wants to melt into the side door. “I am certainly not going to go to his shop,” says Tanya half audibly in Russian.
“Dobri den! I love the Russians,” cries the man.
“We are all from Klingonia,” I explain.
“Yes, I know,” he says.
After we have finally extricated ourselves from Patriarchate Street, Tanya actually steers the Toyota toward the Klingon’s souvenir shop. But it’s a no-parking zone. Even the owner concedes that fact. The attention of the police is not something he wishes to attract, certainly not so close to one of the Jewish High Holy Days, when the nerves of those in authority are worn to a frazzle.
Nevertheless, Tanya stops the car for several seconds. “Give me your card,” she says. “I’ll visit your shop later, but not today.”
“For sure?”
“I promise.”
He gives her his business card.
“You are a pretty woman.”
“Thank you,” says Tanya.
A pink Maria Immaculata with blinking halo peers at this tableau though the glass of the showcase with her lightning-blue sled-dog eyes.

Finally, he is gone. Tanya steps on the gas before the two heavily armed policemen coming toward us can say anything.
“What was that all about?” I ask. “Do you really want to visit his shop? I always say no right away whenever shopkeepers harass me.”
We are gliding through the Armenian Quarter, leaving Old Jerusalem by way of the Zion Gate, turning onto the road that takes us around the city. The Jaffa Gate briefly appears at our right, then the Notre Dame Center on the left.
“Maybe I won’t go, but then again I always have such a guilty conscience about these people, I don’t want to hurt their feelings or offend them.”
We drive north via a multi-lane arterial highway. In the past, up until June 1967, this was the no man’s land between the Western and the Eastern sections of the city – the walls and the barbed wire coils and the famous Mandelbaum Gate. Now a segment of streetcar line is being laid.
“Why a guilty conscience? Are you responsible for the Israeli occupation? Did you resettle anyone? Besides, didn’t you tell me that you take special care of the Arab students on campus?”
“Still,” she said. “It’s not just about me alone.”
“Yes, I understand. But I’m sure that as a voter, you’re for the liberals. You came here as an immigrant, you aren’t responsible for the mistakes of the last hundred years, you don’t live in the occupied zones…”
“But we do,” she said. “To be honest, we live in the territories, in Maale Adumim, it’s not far from Jerusalem, but in the east, towards Jericho.”
Tanya had kept his fact from me up to now. I thought she lived in Jerusalem, and when she had invited my wife and me to celebrate the beginning of Passover with her and her family, I had assumed it would be somewhere in the western part of the city.
“We had no other choice. We arrived in this country completely penniless, and the apartments in Maale Adumim were cheap. The state gave subsidies to anyone who moved there. Our daughter was only five years old. We had virtually no clue regarding the ins and outs and the historical implications. We simply didn’t think twice.”
I know that Shimon also lives on the other side of the Green Line – what a strange term for a former border that still is the cause of so much suffering. Shimon had a long road  behind him, from Leningrad through the hell of the camps on the Volga and in western Siberia and finally to the Promised Land, to north of Jerusalem where the white apartment blocks encircle the barren stony hills and then creep down, up and down, on and on. Ramot is the name of the area: the heights, the plateau. The area looks from afar like a massive chain of defenses, the oldest part on this side of the former border, the highway to Tel Aviv, the periphery and gaps long since filled in with cypresses that now struggle to hold their own against rock and concrete.
Tomorrow I will travel to Ramot to visit Shimon. One reason I agreed to do this book tour of Israel, and the primary reason I accepted Tanya’s invitation to give a reading and to come to Jerusalem for a panel was to visit Shimon. This unspoken melancholy, born of having seen too much, was not something I wanted to accompany me unto my dying day.
“If there ever is peace,” I slowly begin as we turn onto the highway toward Jericho. “If it comes despite all signs to the contrary—peace, that is—and the whole area must be returned…”
“Then we will have to move out again,” says Tanya. “It wouldn’t be the first time that we’ve had to pack up and leave.”
We are silent. After a while the breathtaking panorama of the Judean desert opens up before us, its many terraces, the series of hills upon hills that extend down to the Jordan plain only to build into a massive cliff on the other side of the river, in Jordan.
“But there won’t be peace,” says Tanya at last.

From Vladimir Vertlib, Schimons Schweigen © Deuticke Verlag, 2012

Yes, says Molly

Author: Kemal Kurt
Translator: Marilya Veteto Reese

Clouds pass over the city, it had been raining. Haltingly, the night lowers itself onto the wetly gleaming roofs, here and there lights come on. At first they shimmer, sallow and uncertain in the partial darkness, one by one like yellow fireflies, then, fortified in their quest for constancy by the growing gloom, they multiply rapidly until a flickering carpet of light ensues—a large carpet, damp, heavy, ragged and full of holes, tossed upon a landscape once made up of hills, valleys, rivers and lakes and which now recalls nothing of these.

Over corridors, meadows, paddocks, forests, lakes, houses, and the city. So that’s what she looks like from above. Sounds muffled, movements gentler, the reflection of the evening sun pale on the windowpanes. No glaring colors, no noise, no hustle and bustle. No clocks, no destinies. Nightfall obliterates colors, kills zigzags, rounds off edges; this bird’s eye view deactivates the third dimension. It knows neither heights or depths, longitude nor silhouette. The city as the horizontal projection of herself.

Empty is how the city looks from above, hollowed out. Her inhabitants have no faces, only the one lone face of the city for them all. A city with many names: London perhaps, Paris or Berlin. Or maybe New York, Tokyo, Dublin, Istanbul. Toronto, Calcutta, Kinshasa, Ulan Bator, Samarkand, Astrahan. A pulsating, dully strident creature that lethargically contracts and expands, reels itself in and stretches, tenses and relaxes, so far off in the distance that it appears unreal. Deaf and impassive, unmoved and leaden. The long, straight boulevards are the arteries, the narrow, crooked backstreets a filigree of delicate veins. The large black hole in the center is a park with a small lake where it is possible to row about in rented boats. Red, yellow, and white streaks of light, glowsticks of melting colorful wax move hesitantly, pass by one another in slow motion without touching, flow toward one another, crisscross, diverge, converge, deflect parallel at right angles. Between them houses, courtyards and intersecting sidewings with scattered leafless trees. Only up close does one see how many there are: buildings, buildings, buildings—big tall buildings with blinking neon storefronts and low squat ones with a warm, weak glow at the window. A landscape of roofs, chimneys, mansards, gables, dormers, skylights, domes and now and then, quite unexpectedly, a tower. Brick, tar paper, corrugated sheeting, bowed roofs, flat roofs, pitch roofs, hip roofs, crossroofs, air ducts that pass through crannies of buildings carrying with them fetid odors: rancid oil, the biting smell of cheap schnapps, heating coal and fried fish. Hermetic masonry concealing the stories of permanently wretched people, stories of drink and manslaughter, stories of love and stolidity, poverty and excess. They are no one’s business. Books that tell such stories show up often enough in the febrile Library whose chance volumes are constantly in danger of changing into others and affirm, negate and confuse everything like a delirious divinity. For the total book that is the cipher and compendium of all the rest only the one well-known story like all stories comes into question. It is not unlikely that it exists it is enough that a book be possible for it to exist. But where to look? A century will not accommodate the regressive approach proposed by the librarian: In order to locate book A, first consult book B, which will indicate the location of book A; in order to locate Book b, first consult Book C and so on ad infinitum… Where to start? Luck is what you need to be at the right place at the right time and to find the right one among the many possible beginnings. To find the right window in the short night. Maybe this one:


A woman, mid-thirties, stands at the window and gazes out into the night. Full lips, long brown hair, light complexion. She is wearing a slip. Is that a possible beginning? Is she the right one? Yes, that she is, definitely. One sees it by her inviting bosom. Who wouldn’t like to put his careworn head between these breasts and have his neck stroked? The round curves of this woman have something yielding about them.

A kettle sings on the stove. The woman takes it off and pours the water into a basin. From the bedroom above the muffled snoring of her husband penetrates the room, it swells rhythmically, fades out. God, is he tired! She, too, needs sleep, beauty sleep. Stop! Oh, no! With a tug, she pulls the dingy patterned curtain shut.

Give up? Try somewhere else? Patience. The story takes place here. Here and this evening. Patience. Complete silence. Patience. Nothing happens. The light is still on. Patiencepatience. It can’t be long now. Patienceienceience.

After a while the curtain are pulled back anew with a yank, sudden light blinds. The woman’s shadow opens the window, a surge of bathwater splashes on the gravel, as loud and as impertinent as if nighttime were the exclusive property of its own sounds. In the silence they know no measure, at night a decibel measures louder than day.

Before the mirror, the woman lets down her long chestnut-brown hair and brushes it with care—yet another test of patience. Then, made even more beautiful by the prospect of impending slumber, she climbs the steps of the narrow staircase and goes quietly down the hall to the bedroom, where her mate has warmed the bed for her. It smells sourly of male.

Ki xe lone, Leopold?
Mirone sirimo.
Kiri ten noju?

There is nothing more to say. Full of chicken giblets and lamb kidneys, of red wine, stout and coffee and yet as flaccid as an empty gunnysack, Leopold Bloom rolls over onto his other side; his feet that are sticking out past the blanket at the head of the bed next to Molly’s pillow, turns over too. Yesterday he was out the whole day and had sat up half the night with young Dedalus down in the kitchen till three o’clock in the morning. With his head at the foot of the bed—as usual—he sleeps on.

Half critically, half compassionately, Molly looks over at him. She herself would have it easier and will experience everything from her bed. Not the person who pursues events, but rather the person who stays in one place with open eyes sees and experiences much. Sooner or later all events flow past him, past her. Never tedious, never the same tide. He who abides misses nothing.

Molly shifts till she’s comfortable on the mattress, the loose quoits jungle on the brass bedstead. She extinguishes the lamp, the Bath of Nymph on the wall disappears into the darkness, Molly closes her eyes. She is too tired to carry on a monologue, thankfully her limbs transfer their weight to the surface beneath. Molly sinks deeper and deeper into the bed which gradually accommodates her body. Sleep rises from the foot of the bed, engulfs her toes, her knees, her loins, her bosom and her throat. Shortly before it reaches her ears, she hears a voice:
“Good night, my Queen.”
Good night my Queen? Molly wants to turn over, but her limbs do not obey her. She lets it be, sleep is mightier than the will. But then something rustles. And:
“Asleep already? So early, and on this night, of all nights?”
Tonight? Why tonight? Molly opens her eyes: what is that rustling? A brown bug crawls on the floor across the room. By the glow of the streetlight Molly sees a dent in its back, a wound that only a father could inflict, and smiles.
“Oh it’s you, Gregor!”
“It’s me, Molly, none other than your trusty secret admirer. I did hurry, but I nearly got here too late. I hope you don’t mind me visiting you at this portentous hour. The whole world is celebrating–aren’t you?”
Molly sits up, again the loose quoits on the metal bedframe jingle. At the last moment, Molly is snatched from sleep-and glad to see Gregor.
“No Leopolds asleep and Im not in the mooooooooood for it. I thought you’d come to a wretched end in the care of your family.”
“You see: I am healthy and alive. Better than ever.”
“But didnt the maid throw out your mortal remains?”
“Indeed!” I was playing dead. We bugs are good at that ”
“What if your fatherd heeeeear!”
“I am no longer afraid of him. In the beginning, I was bad off. I had no idea how one goes about getting food for oneself. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had that apple in my carapace and it hurt horribly. After a while, it fell off and the wound healed. In the course of time, I metamorphosed from an unhappy, unfree bugman into a free, happy manbug. Today I am more bug than man. As you can see, I am doing splendidly.”?
Gregor Samsa’s whispering enfolds Molly. He has a wonderful voice, rough, affectionate and flattering. Molly hears it reverberate in her belly. Gregor, keep talking. Please.
“I alays thought youd be larger.”
“I was—back then. It’s been more than 80 years now. I completed a long, very slow metamorphosis. Not overnight—I shrank over the course of many years. Smaller creatures possess better survival skills, since they have fewer needs and provide limited contact surface. Aren’t you as horrified by me as my family?”
Some have only their voices, nothing else. But that is plenty.
“Not atall I think youre sweeeeeet, Gregor sweet and adorable wouldnt you like to get into bed wme?”
“Gladly! I came to wish you a good night. So that you’ll have pleasant dreams.”
“What else can I do but dream my little bug if Im put to bed so early Leopold just wanted to rest a bit now hes been asleep this whole time I cant promise you my dreamsll be pleasant I fear.”
“Do try, my dear lady. Then you can tell them to me—to me and to the rest of the world, to everyone who is congregated at your windowsill. And who gaze, full of longing, at your bosom.”
“Everything without omission! No matter how horrible or obscene.”
“Areya serious?”
“‘Seriousness could be the world’s undoing. Let’s just play a bit instead. We can play at being serious.”

Molly’s limbs relax, her belly softens. Gregor’s voice penetrates her very marrow, resounds in her tailbone. Never before had she perceived a voice riffling her nerve endings in such an uninhibited and pleasant manner as Gregor’s.
“Yes I want to yes,” she says.
Quickly, Gregor climbs up the foot of the brass bed. Bugs can be fast if they have to. Gregor’s legs work industriously, he crawls, scrabbling across the mattress and beneath the coverlet. There he at once begins to explore the sole of Molly’s foot, he breathes her scent in deeply. Then he crawls somewhat slowly and ponderously up the well-formed heel. His hirsute feet tickle. Molly sighs.
“Gregor stop that!”
She wiggles her foot. No sooner than the creature reached the ball of her foot than he slipped off onto the sheet.
“Poor little bug I didn’t mean to did you hurt yrself?”
“Not at all! I’m used to worse treatment at home. Did you like my foot massage?”
“It tickled so. ” After a pause. “It was very nice thank you.”
“I’m the one to say thank you, most honored lady! It has always been my dearest wish to pay you a visit and get to know you better. Today this wish is being granted. You cannot imagine how happy I am.”
“Gregor yre a charmer ya dont expect that of ya I thought you as a sufferbug and a sad sack.”
“That was then. When I was still young and had to please my father at all costs. I have learned to enjoy my life. That is not far off the mark, but it didn’t have to be. Only a few become gourmets, many remain gourmands to the last. That is why I am here.”
Molly pulls up her nightdress above her knees, and, shifting her weight from one buttock to the other, up above her hips. The mattress moves, too, again the brass quoits jingle. Molly looks over at her husband in alarm. He sleeps soundly. Crossing her arms, she slips the nightdress over her breasts and head, balls it up and throws it into the corner. The scent of her body permeates the room.
“Alright,” she says quietly.
Gregor begins anew, scrabbling up along Molly’s heel. Having reached the top, he explores her toes one after the other, kneads the sensitive skin between them. Molly does not move to stop him. She feels the back of her neck and her throat relaxing as if she had been dipped in a thick, warm liquid. Full of anticipation, she closes her eyes.
“Gnight Gregor.”
“Good night, Molly, ma belle.”


From Ja, sagt Molly, by Kemal Kurt, © Hitit Verlag, Berlin, 1998.
With the permission of the Kurt estate.
Translation © Marilya Veteto Reese

Two Handfuls of Lemon-Yellow Desires

Author: Zehra Çirak
Translator: Marilya Veteto Reese

Be a keeper and come to me but only if you can leave again. So come to me on the same slippery slope so that we can hold onto each other and carry each other along. Here’s to residing in To Have and To Hold and to being capable of nothing more than mutual astonishment. Or come via secret unspeakably quiet paths with your hands outstretched for thievery. Perhaps you can save yourself with an excuse of taking from the mouths of a babe, with the restless gaze of hunger. It moves away more quietly yet casts its eye toward an intersection where confrontations await someone quite different.
The man with his hands in his pockets, his head tilted back, looks at the sky where several swallows fly, requiring acrobatics of his eyes. The skin of his lovely slender neck, which rests as if captive in a white shirtcollar, is redolent with lemon. These he stole from a tree during the night, not a public tree-one with an owner and a house. The man pulls his hands from his pockets and runs them over his face. He wishes it were at least a year from now so he would have already forgotten. Lemon theft and consumption was not his plan. He bit into them with his shiny teeth. Fresh and sour, the juice ran down his chin, yet actually left nary a stain on his collar, only small burns in his heart.
A swallow-child practices flying home. Missed the nest again! The calls of those who’ve made it lend courage and perseverance. The swallow-child flies its rounds. A woman behind a window of a house watches the opposite balcony where the swallows’ nest is. She counts the swallow’s flights. Comes close to crashing into her window, just managed to miss it. Start afresh. The seventh time by now. Watching and counting and hoping, all the while the woman tries to imagine how many false starts she’s had in life. When the swallow finally disappears into the nest, the woman paces up and down in the room. She sits down on her own shadow which she’s forgotten on the armchair. There she cries just a little to herself. And these tears slowly reaching her lips taste of lemon even if they do somewhat burn with memory in the corners of her eyes.
She says, “Come to me, if you can leave again.” She tells him this written on a scrap of paper. She doesn’t give him the scrap until after the point in time when he could have come to her. She has a triumphant look, as if she’d gotten the best of him. She says, “I bet you dreamed of something that nice.” She yanks the scrap away, rips it in half and stuffs both halves into his pockets. There he stands straight as an arrow with his fists in his pockets and looks at the sky as if the swallows flying their zigzag paths were incredibly interesting. She goes over next to him and sniffs his impeccably white shirtcollar. Everything goes all yellow before her eyes.
Chicken with olives, garlic, white wine, capers and fresh rosemary, baked in the oven, cooked along with unpeeled lemon quarters. Meant for sharing. Not to everyone’s taste. By no means a new recipe. But upon enumerating the ingredients, the mouth waters anew for fingertips yearning to be licked. It was the meal of a man and a woman sitting in a nearly-empty outdoor café opposite one another who didn’t know each other. Many tables were still unoccupied. But only this one had exerted its magnetism on them. Had they enjoyed their meal?
It isn’t too late yet but twilight breaks over the sky and over the couple.
Knowest thou the land where lemons blossom? Just about everyone knows it, that song written by the master poet. The lesson for the apprentices is the empty grab bag that they fill up by poking their heads inside.
Do you know the ways of the human body which aren’t sure if they want to be known? Or if they want to hear if a voice says to them, “I want you like I want a country where luscious fruits grow?”
If gazes, captive behind sunglasses, are glad not to seem dishonest, rather simply blind to such things.
Two people walk side by side through streets that are loud and full of people. Both of them do not look at one another through their sunglasses. Each of them knows the words in the head of the other. But without touching they taste something on the lips of the other like the fear on their own.
Dread is colored yellow like the wings of a fine lemon-yellow brimstone butterfly perching on the shamelessly red blossom of a poppy. The bloom looks like silk panties. Shimmering and lascivious, the black center of it is like the depths of a dream.
What is the butterfly dreaming of while the poppy blossom sways back and forth in this wind? Soon it won’t be able to hold on any longer. But it can fly onward, preferably with the wind, accompanied by some pollen covering it like bodily fluids exchanged during loving. Some in its mouth, some on its sex and beneath the skin something else remains, too. But you can mutually rinse that off, suppress the thought, emote it away. That happens to people during the day and the night. But what do flowers do at night?
What do flowers do at night? The nighttime is ravenous, garrulous and moonstruck. The flowers lie ready like greens to be nibbled on a tray or were carried off by hands or lie forgotten in a corner that is glad to have them for a night. That’s what flowers do at night: they smell, and occasionally a poppy smells of lemons. But that’s not so bad, since it still looks like a poppy. That’s what it is to be a flower like that at night.
Flowers at night in a house, the house stands on a narrow and deep street with tall old houses and lovely streetlamps all in a row emerging from the facades of the houses like soldiers. The streetlamps are the guardians of the night in case the flowers should get lost, fall from the hands carrying them or fall gradually upon the street in the glow of the streetlamps. Then not only the flowers but also the streetwalkers standing and walking there are protected from being trampled. They do nothing other than keep blossoming and keep waiting at night. They await the glad cries of those who find them, “Look, I found a flower even though it’s nighttime!” Thus many a chosen streetwalker becomes a flower girl of the night.
What do flower girls do at night? Naked, they lean a little more out of their ‘vases’, those open windows, blooming after the act of love, with smiling faces outward and shining bottoms inward. And they listen to a group of passing street musicians. They are still playing “besame….besame mucho” at dawn.
The musicians collect the fallen petals along with the hoped-for tossed coins or the night’s smiling female mouths. The flowers of the night are addicted to pleasing. They wait in bloom or in wilt. They wait in color or black and white, they wait even without scent and never do they speak of the distant day to each night. Sad, the flowers and the mouths, but only if they are picked apart by greedy and oddly empty hands and kissing mouths that think of themselves as they seek. The kisses of the flowers, as those of the girls, are comforting and helpful. They assuage something, the flowers of the night.
A woman, a man, both are meant for one another in order to love each other and not in order to live with each other.
She says, “Come, if you can leave again.” After he was gone she felt hungry, and cut fruit into small chunks with a knife. The last ingredient in the fruit salad was lemon slices. Unpeeled sweet-sour refreshment. She didn’t want to eat the salad. She wanted to smooth it over her body. In dreaming of this idea she became careless and cut the tip of her little finger. The cut was deep. It bled heavily. She pressed the cut part down firmly and bandaged it despite the pain. Then she went ahead and simply ate the fruit salad after all. The wound gave her goosebumps for days afterward. At some point she healed, the spot around the wound still quite sensitive. A small scar remains to remind her. And whenever she rubs the damaged little finger against her thumb she feels her addiction to the memory of the short nighttime period in which she blossomed so happily like a bloom just released from its pleated bud, when her inner radiance was quite yellow with delight.


“Zwei Hände voll zitronengelber Wünsche”, by Zehra Çirak,
© Verlag Hans Schiler, Berlin
Translation © Marilya Veteto Reese