My parents were Christian, Serb,
I remember the icons in my mother’s house,
The smell of meat on feast days.
One orthodox Christmastide,
I think I was nine or ten,
My parents made me hide when the Turks
Came to our village in Kosovo again
Looking for boys and women.
My father was ashamed.
He hung his head.
I pretended I was dead.
Hiding under my sister’s bed.
The devşirme sought me.
Took girl hostages.
Told the elders they would let the soldiers loose
They’d rape them.
Until they were dead.
So, slowly, I showed my head.
And the Turk commander smiled
Put a börk on my head, a cap
Full of dread
That meant I belonged to him.
Only then did I arrive in the world of men.
I had joined the kaşık kardeşliği,
The brotherhood of the spoon, and was soon
In Constantinople, in a harem of boys, an ortas,
We were toys for the çorbaci:
Bulgars, Greeks, Armenians, Turks.
And then the training started
And I was broken-hearted.
I was told I was a Muslim
Now, a Janissary,
I attended a Madrassa in the Hagia Sophia,
I knew the images of Saint Sophia were still there,
Hidden by the Muslims, but still there.
I learnt Arabic, I read the Qu’ran
My mind training had begun.
I was told slave taking is lawful and good.
That this was a tax and the tax was in blood.
My nightmares had ended; I’d learnt to pretend,
I did what was expected, I had learnt to bend.