Avatar Review

Issue 18

Poetry » Carl Boon »


The Kenyan Girl in Istanbul

The holy month approaching,
your pace of life will ease
into a being elsewhere,
where your grandmother speaks
at dawn in whispered dignity.

Darling, put this blanket
on the bed. It will be cool tonight.

I see the green of north Nairobi
stretching as your girlhood dreams
stretched, almost to Nyeri
where the river swells,
bound southward. She speaks:

Darling, the drawings you made
as a child still amuse me.

Apple trees, their branches sweet,
their branches like your father,
reaching for what can’t be
reached: home, the hills
circling Murang’a. More words:

When your father was a boy,
he played stickball. The fruit was sweet.

She desires to speak more,
but you’re compelled to be
elsewhere, where no whispers
exist, where the dignity
that’s left is of another language.


The Turks call it hüzün,
the melancholic spirit of the city
that draws us in or turns us away.
Widened by the snaps
of black umbrellas,
it recalls the dead, the men
on Ayano?lu Street whose girls
too quickly grew to women.

It recalls the hour I spent
cracking my valuables
for honor, hungry in Kadıköy
among couples spilling
from the cinema. But I went on,
smelling the olives and the spices,
mistaken in my belief
a girl might love me again.

The mini-buses were full
of women with scarred stomachs
and slit cheeks; the radio played
someone’s favorite song,
and I needed a bright room
and Springsteen, something
the spirit couldn’t penetrate.
It was summer in New Jersey.

America was bouncing. My mother
was boiling sweet corn
and Dean Jones’ blue pickup
lumbered down East Baird
past the stickball boys
and jump-rope girls
waiting for the dinner call,
waiting to never grow up.

The Carnation Seller

She slumps in the cold,
imagining a world, a life
of watercolored walls

instead of plastic chairs,
the news, baby carriages,
lives on boundaries.

On a flower-stitched pillow
she’ll tilt her head and flip
her bangs and cry.

That will be later. Now
it’s uninterested glances
in the menacing cold,

her hips twisted, seas
where her eyes used to be,
and sparrows floating.

The men returning home
on Ortaklar Street
have no need of carnations.

Jerome in Aisle 6

Four days after my father died,
I realized we needed aluminum foil, dish soap,
paper towels, toilet paper, Tupperware, a mop.
We had to clean and contain
what remained. My mother—inside the thin
contempt death leaves—
pushed the cart, expressionless,
down aisle 6 of the K-Mart.

The placemats were on sale. Then Jerome
waved. I hadn’t seen his face
since high school graduation, another time
of tears and hugs. He was buying dog food
and a thousand packs of diapers. Baby Marcy
was six months, born in a blizzard
on the sixth of March. He’d become a preacher,
ran a Baptist church in Akron,
grinning with newlyweds, burying the dead.
We joked about biology and girls,
basketball, the the endless stupidities
of the 3rd grade.

That night I kissed my father’s hand
before they took his wedding ring.
In the kitchen I drank the bourbon he bought
for Christmas in 2010. I drank slowly
and went to the yard, leaned against
the pin-oak he planted when I was seven,
and couldn’t cry. It was something Jerome
had said, something I’ve forgotten.

City Beach

Far below the shuttered flats
of Erenköy, the city beach
at Avenue Bostan—
flanked by concrete piers—
is almost full at 9 a.m.
Girls from Kad?köy’s interior
stretch their “Beyonce Luv U”
beach towels on sand
trucked in last March.
Their boyfriends focus
on a soccer ball floating
in front of Ahmet’s Fish Stand.
Grandmothers swim sideways
to avoid the seaweed,
the smell of which
is everywhere in the wind.

Down the way,
municipality boys with rakes
remove as much as they can
from this little Marmara Bay,
but piled all day in the heat
the seaweed stinks, and the trucks
won’t come till evening
to carry it away.

Erenköy’s wealthy
in their summer homes
on the Aegean have escaped it,
the smell, the swelling crowd
growing dark in the sun.
Their money allows them air
as sweet as pink acacia,
breakfasts on terraces,
and the opportunity to say
how nice it is to be alone.