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Three Poems by Birhan Keskin


Three Poems by Birhan Keskin




I’m in a barren, dim, and arid void
I’ve hung the kilims against the wind
Here I am
in an afternoon nap on the stalks   
the world is down there, the mountains far away
I’m as resentful as this hillside
but colorful, in the wind, kilims
and the end of harvest, weary leaf, fugitive lizard.

I’m the lake over which the evening falls
Once I made a memory out of love, 
I won’t do it again.

I’m a sparse bunch in the vineyard
Over which the autumn has passed, and forsaken. 

Are you like a lake,
Are you like a lake?
You are like a lake, hea!
You are in a dream, hey, you are the dream.
In a water poem
you are speaking loudly.
The low countries
are silent now. O!ever



This country owes me 30 years of sleep, doctor.
I have it in for everyone in my building.
It’s not because I don’t like humans.
If I get enough sleep during normal hours, I actually do.
After all, I, too, am human.
But doctor, you know the hydrophore in our building, located 
right under my bedroom. And I’ve been sleepless for years
because of it. Otherwise, why would I come to you with this complaint?
Am I crazy? How do others sleep? Ah! How can I know that, doctor?
The fibrositis         Look, here
on my back            is my bedroom
the stiffness           column beam column
in my neck             here is the living room            
don’t go away.        it doesn’t matter where I sleep.    
Every morning I wake up to the world with this angry poem.
For a long time. My nerves turn upside down; the world doesn’t turn around. You see!
Here is my neck. It doesn’t turn, either. 
Wouldn’t I want to write about the world in such fierce times?
But doctor, since there is this hydrophore
and my years-long insomnia, and my eyes wide open, how?
Also, doctor, I’ve already been a little crazy, a little rough
since birth.

Remember those birds that came to my window in the cold, those birds
hunched in the cold. There were two of them yesterday. I looked at them; it was
only then I felt almost at peace, doctor.
What I am saying is too “real,” is that why?
Is that why you stare at my face oddly in this poem?
I had already told you in a previous session that in winters I understand more
of my existence in this world. Even the sky tries to lower itself to a human level,
and this is what I love about the world, I told you. When I write things like this, doctor,
they become poems, but why don’t my eyelids burning from insomnia turn into poems, too?
Speaking of poetry, I will tell you something even if it’s not the moment. Our folks don’t understand a thing of poetry! Avni, for instance. If I went to his shop and asked in a whisper,
“Brother, do you read poetry?,” he would kick me out of the shop immediately or in a minute.
Anyway, let’s put him aside, smile, forget all about him, and go back to our topic,

My biggest reality is my insomnia, doctor.
Whatever has happened to me is because of that, I suppose.
Think about it, a hydrophore kicks off every single morning.
Then again it works alternately, boss. Did I say boss? 
Sorry, doctor!
Foorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhg Tag.   Foorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhg Tag.
Foorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhg Tag.   Foorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhg Tag.
Vulgar, arrogant, cruel.           Vulgar, arrogant, cruel.
Vulgar, arrogant, cruel.           Vulgar, arrogant, cruel.

For those poets who love repetition, this might be a gold mine, but it makes me
crazy, doctor!
Also, this is not the only thing that repeats in my building.
Every day everything repeats.
But the hydrophore, but the hydrophore, doctor! No one can deal with it.
How many times have I told my neighbors, let’s join hands 
and find a solution. I said this, doctor.
Our folks dislike not only poetry, but also holding hands. 


We’re adding our dead to “favorites.”
We’re adding our dead to our dead.
If our names are written on a counter, it is by pure chance
—Birhan, I’ve always read the title as “anti-counter”
That is, what’s not being counted should be left uncounted
Really, after how many blows do we become our own dead?

Man and woman, two different animals.
And the strong prey on the weak in the animal kingdom, that’s the rule.
This isn’t the issue; the issue is something else.
Why should one like pink roses, red window blinds
And live in the same house with an elephant, for instance
Here a vase is about to be broken.

We’re not investors, alright
Big calculations, plans, budgets beforehand
And yet there is a thing called love; if you say let’s skip this, there is also that
There are thick lines, tightly stretched threads for us,
Those who blacken our foreheads with their hairy hands or, if not enough, erase us entirely
There is helplessness, Birhan, take a look:
Sad news arrives from southern Turkey
Sad news arrives from northern Turkey
Sad news arrives from eastern Turkey
Sad news arrives from western Turkey
Turkey increasingly turns into sad news. . .

Speaking of love, I think of a line from Oscar Wilde, you see!
“Yet each man kills the thing he loves”
But if we’re going to kill the thing we love, what’s the point of love?
And yet before this, Aslı, way before this
There is something else hung around our necks.
Put aside the woman, put aside the woman
Put aside the woman, there is.
There is Adam and his rib, etc.
If we go back to the counter, let’s also count this way:
A man squats in southern Turkey.
A man squats in northern Turkey.
A man squats in eastern Turkey.
A man squats in western Turkey. 
Turkey increasingly resembles the squatting men.

Their vertical & our horizontal state might present a pornographic image. But it’s not.
The law of squatting, that is, remorse; the nonsense of “I was drunk, I wasn’t myself” 
To squat: These are our customs, what could I do, etc.
To squat: She should’ve been a good wife
To squat: She shouldn’t have talked on the phone
To squat: She shouldn’t have divorced me
They’re husbands they’re fathers they’re lovers they’re the State.
Those who think we want equality are wrong
Who wants to be equal to thieves and murderers, Birhan?

Can I tell you something, Aslı?
Fuck this kind, my grandfather would say referring to his own kind
That is, before being divided into genders,
We should’ve remained like autotrophs, etc.
This hurts, of course, when putting some in the “human” category
Maybe it is something like: We live with the superstition of
“the human was a dream for some time,” and here is the aftermath.

What was it that made even women believe 
that we were made of a single rib, Birhan?
If you say let’s go back to the real issue, which is now
Say it, wasn’t it the men who have caused all this trouble?
Let’s turn to a woman in Van, let’s turn to one in Mardin, another in İzmir
Let’s return, Birhan, it’s getting late, getting dark, let’s return home
What was it that made us say this, cover our mouths while smiling, hiding while crying
Not to chime in, not to write, not to draw. . . who imposed all of this on us, Birhan?
Who decides the length of our skirts, the number of children we should have
Why did women see their father’s faces during their first sexual encounter
Why are little girls with men like their grandfathers
Why are there brothels, always a woman on the side of the highways
Why is the woman in an ironing commercial naked
A woman on top of cars in an auto expo
Who were those who gifted us food processors on our birthdays
Who put a gun to our heads, who?

I turned the TV on, a gorgeous winter morning, the sun is high up
As if everything were acquitted, just high up
A man locked his wife in the house, put his cigarettes out on her skin
A woman, you see, the doctors warned, “don’t let her be alone with the baby”
You’re right, why should they like pink lace, why should two different species be together
We may be the project of an incomplete evolution

Do you know the technique to join the tongue and groove, Aslı?
Look, you should learn it.
Since this poem doesn’t conjoin.
It hurts, gets colder, hurts, gets colder, hurts, gets colder.
It doesn’t conjoin. The pain of one doesn’t bleed into the other.
I “fiercely” recommend from now on all women be “fierce” 
in another way, Aslı
Get out of two bedrooms & one living room 
With firearms in our hands, the sword of Uma in the scabbard,
With mastery in defense and martial arts.
That’s enough to have this many female names in the counter,
That’s enough, enough. . . let’s get out and loosen our tongues.

— While we were co-writing this poem, Özgecan hadn’t yet been murdered. We had set out to draw attention to* and the increasing male violence against women in recent years. The last part was written after Özgecan was brutally murdered. We then realized that to continue this poem would become another type of weakness since, during the two-month period in which this poetry project was undertaken, we witnessed an act of femicide almost every day. We’re deeply sad, but not mourning. We don’t expect any justice issued by any statesman or any “palace.” We salute Didem Madak, who said “Women are warriors,” and poke the natives within us. We know that femicide is political. And yet don’t forget that the squares and streets are ours. 
— Birhan Keskin & Aslı Serin, February 16, 2015 

* is a digital monument for the victims of femicide in Turkey.


About the author

Birhan Keskin was born in Kırklareli, Turkey. She graduated from Istanbul University in 1986 with a degree in sociology. Her first poems began to appear in 1984. From 1995 to 1998 she was joint editor of the small magazine Göçebe. She has since worked as an editor for a number of prominent publishing houses in Istanbul. Her books include: Delilirikler (1991), Bakarsın Üzgün Dönerim (1994), Cinayet Kışı + İki Mektup (1996), Yirmi Lak Tablet + Yolcunun Siyah Bavulu (1999), and Yeryüzü Halleri (2002). These five books were collected by Metis Publishing into Kim Bağışlayacak Beni (2005). Metis published four further collections, Ba (2005), Y’ol (2006), Soğuk Kazı (2010), and Fakir Kene (2016). Birhan Keskin was the 2005 winner of Turkey’s prestigious Golden Orange Award for Ba. Her Soğuk Kazı won the Metin Altıok poetry prize in 2016.

About the author

Aslı Serin is a poet and mechanical engineer. Her first book, Bu Benim. Zip, was published in 2007. She is also the author of Dans Etmesek De Olur (2012), Değil (2017), and Anarya (2019).

About the author

Öykü Tekten is a poet, translator, and editor living between Granada and New York. She is also a founding member of Pinsapo, an art and publishing experience with a particular focus on work in and about translation, as well as a contributing editor and archivist with Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.

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