Poems

The Hagia Sofia Library

I wasn’t sure
what brought me here
or what I was looking for.
As I riffled through the index cards
on the middle shelves
and side rows,
it was as if
I had turned into a small bird
searching for a nest.

Reinforced concrete
invaded my mind.
My radar functioned,
Terrified,
like Hansel and Gretel,
I dropped breadcrumbs behind me.

In the Reading Room
I leafed through reference books one by one
as if I was slowly drowning.
I looked around for a plank of wood
but it was already too late.
In the middle of the stacks
Nietzsche’s Salomé was about
to become Rilke’s muse –
but they had no veto
over her verdict
of the survival of the fittest! 

The Reading Room was cold.
I could hear many voices.
Nâzım Hikmet
was writing letters to Manowar
in a loud voice,
while playing chess with Vera –
what perfect justice!

Someone called my name in the dark –
I turned round,
a small candle flickered
in the archives.
With my own eyes
I saw Mayakovsky
give his card
to Maria.

I found myself in unforeseen circumstances.
A map on the wall showed
Balqis Al-Rawi
in the Iraqi Embassy
dreaming she’ll be killed,
while Nizar Qabbani
chose his new girlfriend.

It dawned on me
that the witch was stalking me –
I hid inside the books
floundering,
but it was hopeless.
Nine-year-old Beatrice
dictated the Devine Comedy
to Dante
who, exhausted and helpless,
never made it to the Paradise he created.
No!
His life was no Hell either –
he found himself condemned to the Purgatory
Beatrice had designed for him.

Here, among the mouldy books of this archive,
even Olga
couldn’t make Chekhov  
crazy enough to love her.

I must get out of here
and return to my childhood home
in Roodsar –
my sad city –
and read the story of Layla and Majnum
till my heart is full.

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