First Day in Istanbul

16 December 2012

The shining Marmara sea,

Spread out below the hill side of the old city,

Crowned by Hagia Sophia and the holy city of Byzantium,

No longer sings of civilizations clashing, and mystery ships from many lands.

The dancing waters of the Golden Horn,

Now greasy from the oil of leaking cargo tankers and chugging fishing vessels,

Imaging the Blue Mosque and the old city of ancient history,

No longer tell of drowsy emperors reigning over vast domains.

Here in Istanbul where everyone speaks English,

Often learned by working for the US military,

And every corner has a rug salesman who is your good friend,

And where someone in front of every restaurant invites you personally inside:

Here in Istanbul, has the sacred past been lost,

Amidst the hawkers and the shopkeepers of the Petite Bourgeoisie?

Do memories of an enchanted age point forward through the roar of auto tires on brick alleys,

To a new enchantment of reason, vision, and sacred Sufi dances?

Or does the dismal present, of needing to make a Petite Bourgeois buck,

Leave Istanbul in an awful emptiness devoid of dreams?

Are we living in the hopelessness of endless commodification,

Where everything reduces to dollars and cents converted instantly at market value?

Here I walk the narrow streets of the old city,

At the sacred heart of civilization stretching into the dim centuries,

And my heart is full of mourning and of dread,

The depths of the sacred receding from my view.

Here in Istanbul the people are not waiting for Godot,

Feeling neither the absence, nor the presence, of Godot,

While thousands worship in the Blue Mosque opposite Hagia Sophia.

Their friendship, like their English, is there to sell you a rug,

For there is no rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem,

Only a helpful smile inviting you to dine within.

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