on character

a person is always
what they do
their actions define
their character
words are empty
unless validated by action
it’s easy to quote poetry
or political philosophy
but unless you live a life
that reflects those words
you are false
a mask hiding your real self
the hardest thing in life
is to live your words
otherwise
why even speak
without the appropriate action
it’s just air

Desert by Cevat Çapan

Whenever
I sit at a table
to write something to you
I think of the tightrope performers
of my childhood and
all of a sudden
the pen in my hand
gets longer and longer
like that balance stick
and I soon
unlike that masterful tightrope performer
more like an inexperienced clown
fall down into the void
and start jumping
in the bouncing net of dreams.
Then
with the laughter
of my invisible spectators
echoing in my ears
I try to crawl
in a dry sea of ears.

translated by Zeynep Bağcı & Suat Karantay

The Sun by Georg Trakl

Each day the gold sun comes over the hill.
The woods are beautiful, also the dark animals,
Also man; hunter or farmer.

The fish rises with a red body in the green pond.
Under the arch of heaven
The fisherman travels smoothly in his blue skiff.

The grain, the cluster of grapes, ripen slowly.
When the still day comes to an end,
Both evil and good have been prepared.

When the night has come,
Easily the pilgrim lifts his heavy eyelids;
The sun breaks from gloomy ravines.

translated by Robert Bly

Jet-Black by İlhan Berk

One should describe you starting from your mouth
Youngster, your mouth is silk from China, conflagrations, a jet-black amber

Your mouth, a spring of ice-cold water, a general strike
A foolish sea throwing itself from one place to another

Your mouth is that kid who sells dark blue-winged birds in the Grand Bazaar
It’s a periodical titled Cornfield

These small, unpretentious rivers of ours are what your mouth is
Coming downhill a narrow street every day into a little square

Your mouth is “Time in Bursa City,” shyly roofed flea markets
Night as written in old Arabic

Kids, birds, summer times are all your that mouth is
Your mouth is a silken touch in my mind

translted by Önder Otçu

the spiritual aristocrat 2: for Rita/Zhihua

the story of how
you got your English name
you told me one day
a native English speaker teacher
you had at university
couldn’t pronounce all the names
of your classmates and you
that Zhi especially being troublesome
so he put all his favorite names
in a hat
or two hats actually
one for boys, one for girls
and you all picked a name
yours was Rita
and when I asked
why didn’t you change it
to one you liked better
you said no need
I’m used to it now
I remember driving you all over
looking for countryside
so you could photograph animals flowers trees
for the 3 photography classes you took
at Columbia
you would take forever
focusing
before snapping the picture
and the one time in South Dakota
when that buffalo charged you
you got too close
you loved that trip
the herd of wild horses
in North Dakota
the hours you spent
taking pictures of prairie dogs
vacationing in Maine
you would eat 2 lobsters for dinner
never tiring of shell fish
and the weekly dinners
with the Taiwanese
Ranan Phoebe Jerome Theresa Joseph and Snow
my famous lasagna
your shrimp and chives & eggs
the karaoke nights
at the Taiwan Center
your lovely voice in Mandarin
reciting Song Dynasty poems with Ranan
or singing Teresa Teng songs
your kindness to others
the thought you put into each gift
your obsession with detail
in every part of your life
from home decorations
to your preparation for work
to the attention paid to friends
and how my mother loved you
your fried rice a hit
at every holiday dinner
and at NCC
your Saturday morning conversation classes
the petitions students wrote
praising your discussions
your qualities as a teacher
how you would steal my Santa hat
at the annual Christmas dinners
your only fault perhaps
your driving record
but one can’t be perfect
in everything
though you ever the perfectionist
certainly do try
and finally
it’s about values
what you deem important
who you associate with
it comes down to
that old Chinese saying
you told me
you either fly
with the eagles
or stay on the ground
with the chickens
and when I see you
in my mind’s eye
during lulls in my day
I see you soaring
high above this petty world

Glass by Ahmet Haşim

Don’t think it’s rose, or tulip,
filled with fire, don’t hold it, you burn,
this rosy glass.

Fuzuli had drunk of this fire
Majnun, fallen with its elixir
into the state of this poem.

Those drinking from this cup burning
why, filling the night of love
with moans and mint, end to end.

Filled with fire, don’t hold it you burn
this rosy glass.

translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat