POETRY & PROSE
Board Games | Andrea Avery
The Jacket | Ari Holtz
The Turkish Poetry Spitball | Chris King
Goal Line Stand | Jim Klenn
Runners are Weird | Tom Weber
ART DIRECTION BY
Jessica Baran, Aaron Belz, Thomas Crone, Andrea Day, Caroline Huth, Nick Findley, Emily Shea Fisher, Thom Fletcher, Dave Gray, Franklin Jennings, Chris King, K.E. Luther, K. Curtis Lyle, Richard Newman, Greg Ott, Stefene Russell, Dana Smith, Brett Lars Underwood
The Turkish Poetry Spitball | by Chris King
We were stalking Carolyn Forche.
“She's in the house,” Untenable said. She had left the auditorium, he meant, and entered the lobby. “There she is.”
Carolyn Forche is a poet. She had just finished a program for the prestigious Poetry Society of America series “Poets on Poets,” in which living poets discourse upon greater, dead poets. Her dead poet was Nazim Hikmet, a Turkish Communist who wrote most of his poems in prison. He was one of the most important writers in my world, as Untenable knew, which was why he had invited me.
“Go get her,” Untenable urged.
I was carrying a baseball. I have this thing about having poets autograph baseballs. Untenable knew this. Nazim Hikmet, sadly, was dead, so he could never autograph a baseball for me. Carolyn Forche, editor of the anthology Against Forgetting, where I had first read Nazim, would have to do.
But there was a small mob scene taking shape around her. She is a celebrity in a certain, tiny scene (leftist poetry circles), and she is the author of at least one gorgeous lesbian poem, which must be included in many lesbian anthologies – can't say for certain, not in the target market, don't read them books – but there was a certain woman-loving-woman feel to the group surrounding her. How could my baseball compete with that.
Then I saw Randy Blasing. No household name, Randy Blasing, and no household face, but as the translator of Nazim Hikmet, his name was known to me, and I had heard him introduce himself earlier at the book sales table. I moved in. I handed him my baseball.
This was not just any baseball. It was a Pawtucket Red Sox baseball that I had picked up at a home game of the Boston Red Sox's AAA farm club in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
“I live in Providence!” Randy said, when he saw the decal on the baseball, and then gladly signed, identifying himself on the ball itself as a “25-year Red Sox fan.”
“I'm struck by the differences in response when you pulled out the baseball," Untenable observed, as I admired my autograph. “The poet himself got all wide-eyed and loved it, while all these career graduate students looked out of the sides of their mouths with vivid suspicion.”
With Forche still mobbed, we shuffled over to the book table, where Randy's translations of Nazim were for sale.
“Chris King! From St. Louis?” was exclaimed from the book table.
And there selling books sat Pamela Grossman, a college literary buddy. (My first and only undergraduate literary buddy, as a matter of fact; I was one lonely hombre in those days.) Pamela and I had been very young, ambitious campus writers together at Washington University in the mid-‘80s and hadn't seen each other since.
“You're not going to believe this,” she said, “but I am going to quote you. You wrote a story. I never forgot this line. A character said something, and qualified it by saying, ‘I'm afraid.’ It was something like, ‘That’s true, I’m afraid.’ And then the narrator said, ‘She was afraid, just like that, of half the things she said.’ I always remembered that as a reflection on the things people say without thinking.”
Pamela asked if we were going to the party. The event was on the campus of Hunter College in Manhattan, where we knew no one. We didn’t even know there was a party. Of course, we were going to the party.
At the party, Untenable snagged water. I snapped up wine.
“There's Forche,” I said, and we moved in, but the lesbian gaggle shut us out again. As we walked away, Forche was still stroking the stringy hair of some scrawny woman who was talking on a cellphone.
“Professor Halman!” I exclaimed, switching gears, and swooped in on him.
Professor Talat S. Halman also had participated in the program. When it comes to Turkish poetry, every other living person is but an ash on the cigar of Professor Halman. He was the first minister of culture for the Republic and Turkey and is the unquestionable authority on Turkish poetry, as well as the go-to guy for translations, in and out of the language.
“He was at Orhan Veli's funeral,” I whispered to Untenable. Untenable would care about this revelation. He knows that I am putting Orhan Veli’s collected poems to pop music. Orhan Veli was a modern Turkish poet who died in 1950 in an alcoholic coma after falling into a ditch, drunk. Professor Halman, then a 19-year-old youth, was one of the very few mourners at that very sad Istanbul funeral.
Professor Halman seized the baseball from me.
“My passion!” he exclaimed, hugging the baseball. “I have been a Yankees fan many years!”
With hesitation and sadness I pointed out that it was, in some sense, a Red Sox baseball.
“Then can I sign it Roger Maris?” Professor Halman asked, still hugging my baseball. Instead, he signed it, immaculately, as himself – and then winded up to pitch.
“I throw a mean spitball!” said the greatest authority on Turkish poetry who will ever live.
I backed up and squared to catch him, ecstatic, but though he pumped and fingered the ball, he never threw it. As he returned the ball to me, I had already told him about my Turkish poetry-to-music project, and he said, “I would do anything in my power to help such as you.”
This was rather like Mick Jagger or David Bowie or Neil Young extending unconditional help to a rock band.
Forche was still with her gal pals. But I was with God, or Allah, or the greatest authority on Turkish poetry who will ever live. Untenable continued to say brilliant, enviably quotable things, all night long, he is like that, one of them on-the-spot geniuses, but I didn't remember a word he said, because I couldn't write anything down (I was carrying a cup of wine in one hand and a baseball in the other: bury me that way). Pamela, my long-lost literary buddy from my lonely hombre days, walked with us and reminisced with me about our youthful literary exchanges (funny how much two people can grow during one long afternoon in a campus quadrangle), and we met the Turkish pioneer in electronica who put Nazim Hikmet to music before I was born, and the Martha Quinn of early Turkish music television, but I was numb to it all, the way lovers grow numb after hours of love in action. The greatest authority on Turkish poetry who will ever live had signed my baseball for me, and mimed a spitball that I will be trying to catch for the rest of my life.
Chris King is a writer, editor, musician, producer and director whose first film, Blind Cat Black, premiered at the 2007 St. Louis Filmmakers' Showcase. You can befriend him at MySpace.com/stlchrisking.