Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt



Mehmet of Milâs, Who Teaches Literature

Grandfather Mehmet always walked slowly,
feet thrown out to the side like Chaplin’s clown.
He chose our long family name
from one of our shameless newspapers
after the whole world was talking of moving
to the city, after Father taught him to read
our new alphabet, and after Ankara passed
our two-name law to make the Mehmets
far more than we had been so all of us
could be counted for once, but not twice

Pinocchio belongs to Pisa but his nose
belongs to Grandfather’s stories,
a whole body’s performance, hands,
shoulders, chin, hazelnutty eyes. He lectures
the universe, knife pendular above
stuffed peppers and yogurt. “We Mehmets
are storybooks that don’t grow old.”
He looks at me because I’m the only one
listening: “and there are more stories
of Turks like us than there are Mehmets.”
Sometimes his words on how our own Mehmets
made room in this world
are fumbled as though the blessed one,
the Prophet, is eavesdropping from shadows
in the next room on his every syllable

Yes, it’s a holy name, and it’s my name,
same as Grandfather, Father, four uncles,
and five cousins. They have that good-looking
Kurdish face. But there are Mehmets
that have a head like old bread soaking
all morning in cold kitchen water,
and not a few are missing two of their four legs,
our neighbour, for instance,
Mehmet the fly-swarming goatherd
in the open field behind us

One of my Uncle Mehmets waits and waits
for his luck to change like old men
fishing off the pier by the No-Fishing sign.
There are Mehmets who do even less
than the ancient gods. Indeed, we Mehmets
are like anthologies compiled
by dubious reasons

                                     But Father
has that red face of a marriage to masonry.
When there is work, he drinks raki
all night and sings songs endless
as our Anatolian plains before cycling
a here-or-there into the sunrise
to build a faux Ottoman mansion
on an old street, or a sugar-cube apartment
like all the others on a new street,
or a boutique hotel with stonework frogs
vomiting into a pool, the plans drafted
by others. He sings to birds that splat
on his unfinished walls and windows.
His hands and feet are the oldest parts of him,
and the pain in his chest is like bad mortar
in a wall built by a charlatan namesake.
When the scaffolding has been dismembered
he can stand almost straight, right there
inside his broken body and make contentment
a choice. People will know what I mean.
A feeling gleaned from a gaze —

It’s something like classroom glances,
despite cell-phone junkies
who give books the go-by, who remind me
of mules trying over and over to eat
their harness, and yet a class
where the Mehmets and others
will sometimes admit to being surprised
how a story page by page can fever the air,
and even if there are more lies in literature
than there are Mehmets, how the story
can hunt for dreamers and first love.
Behind my desk I watch the impatience
of a world dawning between trees of life,
that yearning — a hide-and-seek of the heart.
I let it find them, go home with them,
sleep with its arms warm about them.
No Mehmet or any other name
is like this




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