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Island in a Rough Sea

by Eduard Schmidt-Zorner

The façades of the houses on Camcı Hüseyin Street had a double, where their copy reflected on the rain-soaked cobblestones, converting them into puzzle pieces of a cityscape. Each with a little image of its own.

The narrow street dropped gently down to the seaside of the quarter. If you paused for a moment, you could see across the Bosporus. The small ships chugging into the Sea of Marmara and the ferries releasing people into the darkness.

I walked uphill through the curved, intersecting and increasingly narrower side streets. Passed under the pitch-black windows of dark houses, their projections leaning towards each other. I heard nothing else than the sound of my footsteps.

Arriving at the top I gazed down at the city. Its blurred lights, its shadows flickering and the snow gently falling.

An illustrated image of neighbourhood streets with a cafe on the left side.

In a cul-de-sac, near my hotel, there were lights. A café-confectionary was open. Unobtrusive, modest, and secluded, it lay in a corner of silence.

As I came closer, the smells of fresh bread and pastry tempted me to enter.

Two couples sat at the small, round marble tables. At one there was an old man and an old woman. They did not speak, only looked at each other. The man held his wife's hand in both his hands. One could see there was love between them which never ceased.

Next to them were two young women also holding hands. The one sitting with her back to me, called the woman opposite her tenderly by her first name, Güzel, and said, “Seni seviyorum” (“I love you.”)

Quietly and calmly, they continued their conversation, not caring that I could hear every word, so close were the tables next to each other. Did they realize the danger of informers in the present intolerant atmosphere?

The old couple must have heard them too, because they smiled and looked at each other knowingly. Remembering their youth, their love. The unceasing affection for one another. Though their faces were wrinkled, the inner light of a deep sentiment made their skin look young and transfigured.

"Aisha, I love you too,” said Güzel and kissed her hands. “What will happen to us?”

Aisha shrugged and said, "We have to live on."

A shadow of threat hung over them. The danger of being brandished, ridiculed, misunderstood and rejected by a society which knew only black and white, and had no understanding of the tender feelings they shared. There was this sadness which characterised Istanbul, hüzün, a melancholy which did not allow a smile.

And also the omnipresent shadow of the prescriptive contempt of a regime.

A young long-haired man entered the cafe, looked around shyly, and with relief I saw the owner kissing the young man passionately; it was not the kiss of a brother, or cousin, but of a lover.

The owner had noticed that I had observed the exchange of affection. His eyes expressed a questioning look with a touch of anxiety. I gave him an approving smile.

The owner approached my table and put a plate with açma, a fluffy Turkish roll with sesame seeds and cumin, in front of me.

Image of Turkish rolls with seeds spilled on the table.
Image credit: P.O.sitive Negative on Unsplash

Hoş geldiniz! Welcome. Try this,” he said and poured me a coffee from a tiny copper pot.

“Do not be afraid,” I said, “I am not a nark.”

I looked over at the two couples. The young ladies cuddled together like forlorn children, one touching the breast of the other, the tenderness of little gestures. I imagined that the old man and woman were lovers enjoying the twist of fate which united them after so many years of separation because their families did not approve of romantic togetherness when they were young and lived in a remote village ruled by a restricting tradition.

I had an understanding of their problems, the love they had to hide in an environment which denied luck and pleasure to those who had made a choice, their choice.

Not to disturb the two and give the impression of an eavesdropper, I ordered a glass of boza, pulled a notebook from my pocket, and wrote a poem. When I had finished, I turned to both couples.

“Listen, I have a poem for you,”

Over a coffee and honey pastry,

I watch the scene like in a theatre,

hear the shuffling steps of passers-by

on the narrow lanes of district Beyoğlu

or in the shadow of the Eagle statue.

A sheet with a poem in front of me,

begins with the stanza:

“On the shores of the Marmara Sea…

grows wine, the drink of sin and heresy,

that the “prophet” condemned

and all love he did not understand.

I feel detached, free,

free, like the people around me.

A sigh of relief envelopes them.


I see the essence of my poem,

in the eyes of Aisha,

your beloved.

Her eyes have the same colour

as the velvety green of Anatolia.

Everything could be so simple

if humans were human

and peace the only religion,

and poetry the word of God,

and stanzas would be prayers

sung from the minarets.

And the smell of coffee

with cinnamon and cardamon

the only path to bliss.

Tears were in the eyes of Güzel and Aisha. The faces of the old couple had become melancholic and pensive.

"I wish you all a good night, may the power of love protect you." I said.

When I passed the table of the old couple, the woman grabbed my hand and said, “Poetry is healing. More of those poems should be written because the world needs healing.”

An image of a notebook with writing inside, and a pen over the page with two rose petals.
Image credit: Vaibhav Raina on Unsplash


A black and white photo of the author, Eduard Schmidt-Zorner
Eduard Schmidt-Zorner

Eduard Schmidt-Zorner is a translator and writer of poetry, haibun, haiku, and short stories. He writes in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and German and holds workshops on Japanese and Chinese style poetry and prose and experimental poetry. Member of four writer groups in Ireland. Lives in County Kerry, Ireland, for more than 30 years and is a proud Irish citizen, born in Germany. Published in over 190 anthologies, literary journals, and broadsheet.

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