for Meral, Bozcaada island/Tenedos, 2013
Not the soft wrinkled skin of old men –
papery, easily torn – or the crumpled blooms in our town plots.
Upright as tulips, Turkish Red Poppies are firm and sure,
they need just four petals, bright scarlet,
red as red can get, each with its eye kohl-black.
We are laughing like children,
racing through fields-full, higher than our knees.
They crowd the narrow roads of your island
spilling across runnels, under fences
as if they were once water, spreading in a flood.
We are poppy-hunters, poppy-picking.
We run ahead of the other women,
driving to lane’s end, friends’ building sites,
competing for the best field to harvest.
You hold them hostage with talk while I grab and gather.
We pluck the four petals. Pollen-loaded stems are
shocked, naked, worrying how to attract bees.
Velvet along our fingers we recall our babies’ skin,
filling bucket after basket, harvesting till your small green car
is loaded with the lightness of their feather-weight.
At the house we wash them outside in basins.
Small creatures emerge to be purged,
bits of grass, poppyseeds, perhaps enough
to charm a winged monkey, put a lion to sleep
on their trudge behind the rainbow.
Over and over we rinse them, the spring heat on our backs,
flowers ruffling and crinkling in our cool hands.
It’s like washing silk shirts. The pot in the kitchen
is boiling its sugary clouds. Your secret ingredient
that I am to take with me ‘to the grave’ is wafting old Morocco in.
When the jam is ready it cools into dark-claret shades
ready to sit in my bags with poppy lokum, red-poppy syrup,
travelling back to a country where red poppies only ever meant
grief over fields full of the bodies of dead young men,
a generation of women left unmarried, alone.
Now – you say to me – when you see red poppies you will think of these –
friendship in spring; wild flowering and its fruit; gelincik,
which means lovely young brides in their ladybird beauty,
black eyes shining with happiness; the touch of red velvet,
of sunshine, wet silk; the sweetness of jam on the tongue.
This Intimate War. Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – Içli Dışlı Bir Savaş. Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915, is written by Dr Robyn Rowland AO and translated by Dr Mehmet Ali Çelikel. Published here with permission of the author.
Initially drawn to Turkey by her Turkish sister-in-law, Robyn began work about its landscape and history in 2009. During that work she has been a guest of the Turkish Australian Cultural Centre and the Australian Consulate in Çanakkale, and there learned of the Turkish history during the Gallipoli (Gelibolou) war. Beginning work on poems about the war, Robyn realised her limited knowledge on the Turkish experience and its relationship to Australian history. Her manuscript of poems on the war is enriched by the translations of Turkish translator Dr Mehmet Ali Çelikel, with whom she has been giving bi-lingual readings in Turkey.
Dr Robyn Rowland AO received a Literature Board grant to complete research and write poems on Turkey. Australian-Irish poet, she has read and taught workshops in Ireland for 32 years. This Intimate war. Gallipoli/Canakkale 1915 (Five Islands Press) is her seventh published collection of poetry. Another, Line of Drift will be published later this year by Doire Press, Ireland)
This Intimate War was launched tonight, but unfortunately family commitments prevented me from attending. I'm sure it was a highly successful evening and I'm envious of everyone who could attend! Raise a toast to a brand new poetry book sailing into our lives and, when you've toasted to this book's success, hop over to the Tuesday Poem blog where you can partake of other poems.