“Americans eat human meat,”
says the butcher of Balat—
slicing away with practiced strokes—
to Meltem and me, her American friend.
A glint travels from his long knife’s polished sword-hilt
to wild eyes that dart every which way,
as if an unseen enemy is lurking in the street.
He learned it in the camii, so he knows it’s true,
as if the walls were designed by Mimar Sinan to absorb speech
and bounce back corrected waves of sound, rearrange them into truth.
Or have so many years in the kasap trade
brought him closer to death, to the ancient gods
with their demands for oxen, bulls, and wine?
Like a priest, he decides when a mortal creature dies,
wields in his hand the means to its end; weighs
in his scales the sacrifices. Just so, Zeus weighed
the lives of Hector and Achilles in his golden balance.
Despite the countless hecatombs offered
on Priam’s household altars, the fumes of smoky wine
the pleasing smells of roasting flesh
poured as a libation upon the dark earth,
despite the fragrant smoke reaching Olympus,
filling Zeus the Father’s nostrils—
Hector’s day of doom came all the same.
Despite our sacrifices, fasting, and prayers,
the goddess Fortune rules in the end,
dispensing her favors with blind detachment.
Despite rituals so elaborate:
horns bounds in gold or, garlanded in flowers
like Iphigenia at the altar—
in the version where she dies, heroically, for Troy?
What happens to her lifeless body
A last-minute substitute: a hart? a deer?
Some graceful female animal, as if species
were interchangeable at the will of the gods.
Even Abraham would have sacrificed
his son, but for that last-minute stroke of luck,
the kurban in place of the boy.
And when a cow is butchered on bayram—
as I saw in Sadrazam Ali Paşa Sokak,
the long knives of the Fates
cutting its life short
so that its bones join the others
on the funeral mound of history—
how do we know that the dumb beast,
eyes imploring mercy,
is not a human in animal guise,
metamorphosed, like Io, by the wrath
of the implacable gods?
Some men are men of the sea,
some, men of the land
Just like women
men were also divided
between sea and land
When a woman of the sea
falls for a man of the land
or a man of the land,
for a sea-girl
in a storm
A fishy metaphor, this
for the lostness
that opens to the sea
An existential error
When love does not hold
between people who are in love
the sea opens, the land closes
*“Deniz, Kara” by Murathan Mungan
translated by Ruth Christie, Idil Karacadağ, and Elizabeth Pallitto