iyi saatte olsunlar

May they visit in good times

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fragment

"Come with me," my friend told me, "you must meet my friend. He’s a dentist, quite a special one." On the street below the office, a street dog is barking at the closed door, a knot of men arranged either around her or around the door, halfheartedly shooing her away. The dog takes a few steps away, then bolts back when another man steps out of the teahouse, its windows grimy with nicotine and steam, watching the scene it is almost as though it is this man’s wife come to hector him, eyvah iyi saatte olsunlar have come to visit him. But from the top of the stairs the dentist calls down to us, he and my friend immediately launch into a conversation about my friend’s teeth, "When I drink water," he says, "my mouth sizzles." For some reason, I am struck by the man’s bare feet in his slippers, the calluses around his heels, but my friend draws my attention back, again with, "This is a very special dentist, let him explain." And the dentist looks at me sharply for a moment, "Are you too involved in dentistry?" "No," I say, while he motions me to follow him. This is how I find myself sitting beside him as he scrolls through photographs on his computer of the patients he has treated, their mouths posed in various contortions of decay, this one a cracked crown, that one completely rotten to the root, there is a vagrant pleasure to this, a certain morbid curiosity to see these crumbled mouths. But I find my stomach turning, even as he shows me the before and after, the porcelain crowns reshaped on aluminum anchors, the small screws sunk into the tender foundations of flesh, I am both relieved and surprised at how little blood there is in his work, in these rictus of repair, his speciality, he tells me with pride, is in not removing more teeth than he has to, this is his craft. As I get up to excuse myself to leave, he asks me, "Are you Muslim?" and I tell him, "I believe." Ah, he says, but do you pray, and when I tell him I don’t, he says, then that’s not belief, without prayer there is not complete belief, and I find myself briefly lost in the folds of his Turkish; searching for something to tie the conversation up, I ask him about those who pray without believing, those who pray only for the appearance. Those, he tells me, are the lowest of the low, the hypocrites for whom the 8th circle of Hell has been reserved, where they will burn below those who deny Allah, below those who have not accepted his Prophet, beneath the Jews and the Christians and those others who have strayed from the Righteous Path of Our Lord. When he shows me to the door and shuts it quickly behind me, I find myself briefly in the darkness of the 2nd floor landing, in a building seemingly too big for this dentist with his chair overlooking what used to be a garden for movies during the summer, his office filled with old plaster molds and a computer filled with photographs of his patients and his nieces, half Chinese and half Turkish, he says, who live in New York with his younger brother and his brother’s wife. Such is the world we live in.

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On A Sunday

When you write something
you want it to live—
you have that obligation, to give it
a start in life.
Virginia Woolf, pockets full of stones,
sinks into the sad river
that surrounds us daily. Everything
about London amazed her, the shapes
and sight, the conversations on a bus.
At the end of her life, she said
London is my patriotism.
I feel that about New York.
Would Frank O’Hara say Virginia Woolf,
get up? No, but images from her novels
stay in my head—the old poet
(Swinburne, I suppose) sits on the lawn
of the countryhouse, mumbling
into the sun. Pleased with the images,
I won’t let the chaos of my life
overwhelm me. There is the City,
and the sun blazes on Central Park
in September. These people on a Sunday
are beautiful, various. And the poor
among them make me think
the experience I knew will be relived again,
so that my sentences will keep hold
of reality, for a while at least.

Paris Review – In Memoriam: Harvey Shapiro, 1924–2013, Sadie Stein

Filed under poetry harvey shapiro