Soldier of fortune

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"The city is fallen but I yet live. Isn't there a Christian here to take my head?"  Contantine, 30 May,1453


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My thoughts are drifting, soporific.

I wander far from this meagre time and place

And I a soldier of the Sultan, a Janissary, what a terrible joke. 

I drift in memory back to the ashes and the dust my boyhood knew

In Bosnia: my parents, my sisters, me the only boy

A besmirched, frightened Christian human face

When the Ottomans raided and the Turks took me,

Such intricate losses I can hardly speak of

 Serve to mark my unaccompanied loss of people, place.

 Grey thunder clouds mount the Bosphorus and all my

Comrades are afraid. Fearing the spirits of the earth.  

Fearing death with so much Christian blood on their hands:

Some, like me, remember the road to Calvary.

The Ottomans use us against our own people. And still

They will not convert. My people.  O! How I hate this pretence:

But power is power and I must bide my time. Wait in line.

Practise the breathing as the Hindus teach.  And as I breathe I see

Their lined, sad faces, like the crumpled leaves of autumn,

In the wet, forests of the north. I see merchants from Arabia,

Dhows packed with black slaves to sell.  This hellish trade

Makes me turn my face towards the mountains of purple Bougainvillea:

All beauty carries a crown of thorns.

Just as the wine from Al-Andalus lifts then dashes my broken heart.

The poetry of Rumi then the music of the harp then some hashish, then sleep.

These Ottomans tell us we will become loyal assassins of the Sultan

 Makes my anger burn, my hatred sting fiercer, like a knife wound.

In the slave market on this clear-sunned March morning I see a young

Yezedi  girl being prodded by her Arab owner. She has blue eyes like mine.

She will be sold for a heavy price in gold,  to an old, rich man.

Our eyes meet. I tell her in the silence of the cool of the morning to be strong,

To wait for the right time

Then to take her revenge, strike without mercy.

It is our song. We are strangers in this strange land.

We both must wait for our chance to spill Ottoman blood. 

The alchemist bled me today and prescribed a tincture of opium

These prescriptions do not ease the pain I feel.  They are no

Solution to my deep heart’s ache, the ache that afflicts my soul.

Sometimes I sneak into St Sophia's, surrounded as it is, by minarets.

I long for rain and cold, instead the heat and dust of deepest Anatolia

Dries my mouth and throat. We are hunting Kurds and  Yezedi.

Zoroastrians maybe.  I do my best not to find them.

The Sultan wants more galley slaves, more dead  infidel 

More blue-eyed girls for his harem.

Their lust is never satiated.  Never


◄ Kassia

Down the pub ►


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John Marks

Tue 12th Mar 2019 00:25

Thanks everyone. Mae it was very interesting to read how your Greek heritage has affected your point of view. To some extent we are all trapped by our varying heritages. Some think they break free. I doubt it. All goes back to one of the oldest debates of all Nature v Nurture or as some might formulate it Genetics v Environment. I dont think there's a choice both influence us massively but in differing ways and to variable extents. All of our genetic history influences us from way back through the generations. John

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Mae Foreman

Mon 11th Mar 2019 11:06

"It is our song, we are strangers in a strange land". Haunting. As a Greek whose historic past you described may I say thank you! Tha mosaic of cultures, the customs and ways of the era, everything. We took and gave so much, exchanged a lot. But sadly here were also comes committed against ethnic or non Muslims minorities. And also sadly at the end of the day the politics ruin us. And I agree with the rest as far as those go. And the whole Erdogan debacle doesn't help at all. Though the peoples tend to feel friendly towards one another!
Thank you🎈


Mon 11th Mar 2019 10:40

When it comes down to the basic truths of it all, I would be interested to know what the world's many populations would look like were it not for religious conversions accomplished through coercion in any of its many insidious forms.


I really don't want to ignore the writing, which I feel is a strong piece. However, at the risk of stirring the pot, I would just like to say as one who is unaffiliated, there are plenty of us who live in the hope that the higher law of our common humanity will eventually prevail and erase these artificial divisions.

<Deleted User> (19913)

Mon 11th Mar 2019 09:31

As one who is woefully lacking in knowledge of history, your poems spark a new thirst to know more. Some beautiful lines in here.... Thanks for sharing.

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keith jeffries

Mon 11th Mar 2019 08:45


Thank you for this comment. Have you read William Dalrymple´s bood ´From the Holy Mountain ´?If not, then may I recommend it to you as it covers present day Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He spends a significant amount of time in Constantinople.

Erdogan may play about with religion but no one successfully plays about with God. Byzantium existed in all its glory and that period of history cannot be swept under the carpet. Present day Socialists in Spain have been busy removing the last vestiges of the Franco period but it will never go away because it took place. Most politicians are a curse.

Thank you again

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John Marks

Mon 11th Mar 2019 08:01

Thank you very much Keith. Now there are 15 million Muslims and 2000 Christians in Constantinople. 500 years of forced conversions and murder reached their apex in the genocide of millions of Christian Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians during the period 1915 - 1922. A genocide for which the present Turkish state continues to deny responsibity. Erdogan's latest idea is to convert the Hagia Sophia/St Sophia's cathedral to a mosque probably on the 29 May. John

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keith jeffries

Sun 10th Mar 2019 21:36


I am fascinated by this poem as well as the previous one both of which speak so eloquently of Byzantium and then the Ottoman period. The way you play the part of someone during this period is quite remarkable. The poet in you also becomes the teacher bringing to life the events of the day.

The contrast between the Byzantine Empire of Constantine is in such marked contrast with the Istanbul we see today. I am amazed that the Ecumenical Patriarch continues to inhabit the city when he is so frequently shown such discourtesy and often violence.

Thank you for this

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