The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
Pretend one language is all you speak, so the swirl of vowels,
edge of consonants around you turn to cacophony. Home
is thousands of miles away. Familiar syllables float by, lost
in air heavy with sweat. Four thousand shops along labyrinthine alleys
and your group has evaporated into the crowd like cigarette smoke.
Men shout “hookahs! kilims!”—words lost in your ear.
You’re too new, but “come in for tea” pulls at your full purse.
All salesmen look the same: brown slacks, white button-downs,
dimply grins. They want you, or seem to, eyes boring into your body.
The rush only lasts twice. One wants to sell a hookah with its limp pipe
curling over its glass tube like the neck of an alien bird. You find
yourself haggling. You don’t even smoke. You just came here to sightsee.
Next it’s a gold chain two centimeters thick, some platinum rings
set with emeralds and amethysts. Something more reasonably priced
turns out to be moonstones that look like a child’s drawing of a flower.
Each time you turn a corner or veer down a left fork you end up at a store
selling boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl or painted with men
on horses clashing with other men, both with uplifted spears.
The moustached man promises a deal on a yellow leather jacket
if you don’t want a box. Suddenly you want a box and a set
of ceramic tiles. Organza embroidered with butterflies and roses
as souvenir gifts, perhaps a carpet woven in Bergama—hand-dyed
with chamomile, madder, indigo. You begin to haggle and he laughs
when you suggest half. Unbuttoning your shirt a notch knocks off
a million lira—ten bucks. The clerk’s assistant runs for a bigger
shopping bag, but it’s time. You imagine your group standing
at the ferry platform, your name on their lips. You depart
empty-handed with the taste of tea leaves on your tongue.
—from Rattle #28, Winter 2007