Poem of the Week, by Jaime Manrique

Istanbul, smoking hookahFive years ago this week my older daughter and I were sitting on the porch of a cafe in Istanbul, smoking a hookah and eating mezes and pita bread. Later, we walked the streets of our neighborhood, which was on the Bosphorus. At one point the muezzins began their call to prayer, the sound of their voices wafting over the stone walls and cobblestones of that vast and sprawling city. The sun was falling below the horizon and my daughter was walking ahead of me, her tumble of dark curls falling over her navy jacket, and my heart seized up in a familiar way, the way it has seized up my entire life, when the world is too beautiful and you want to stop and freeze it but the minutes are passing and passing and passing regardless.

You can come back here, Alison, I told myself, you can come back. A familiar silent refrain, something I have told myself every time I’m traveling and the heart seize happens again. But you can’t come back. There’s only that moment, and then another moment, and every moment replaces the previous one. Tonight I think of all the skies / I have pondered and once loved, says the poet in this gorgeous poem below. The minute I read those lines I was transported back to that beautiful evening on the Bosphorus with my beautiful girl, and my heart seized up all over again. Poem of the Week, by Jaime Manrique. 


     –  Jaime Manrique, translated by Edith Grossman

It is a July night
scented with gardenias.
The moon and stars shine
hiding the essence of the night.
As darkness fell
—with its deepening onyx shadows
and the golden brilliance of the stars—
my mother put the garden, her house, the kitchen, in order.
Now, as she sleeps,
I walk in her garden
immersed in the solitude of the moment.
I have forgotten the names
of many trees and flowers
and there used to be more pines
where orange trees flower now.
Tonight I think of all the skies
I have pondered and once loved.
Tonight the shadows around
the house are kind.
The sky is a camera obscura
projecting blurred images.
In my mother’s house
the twinkling stars
pierce me with nostalgia,
and each thread in the net that surrounds this world
is a wound that will not heal.



For more information on Jaime Manrique, please check out his website.

For more information on acclaimed translator Edith Grossman, please read this interview.

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