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, 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 corbaci
Bulgars, Greeks, Armenians, Turks.
And then the training started
And I was broken-hearted.
I was told I was a Muslim
Now, a Janissary,
A slave of the sultan,
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; they said.
I’d learnt to pretend, world without end.
I did what was expected, I'd learnt to bend.
Back in Constantinople now, I am glad,
The time in the Caucasus, killing pagan Slavs,
Was pure agony to me. My beautiful Greek
Hetaira was waiting for me. I remembered
My mother too keenly,
Hurt by these bastard Turks.
I do not fall into their trap.
Islam is hypocrisy on tap.
Lying here with my beautiful Hetaira I think.
The stories that move us are always the same:
The promised land,and the broken heart,
Meeting your lover and falling apart.
This is what the Jew in Cordova told me
He talked of the Stoics, Maimonides, I listened well,
He was old and wise. By then I could tell.
The light is strange here in this rented room
The landlady will be here soon.
Hetaira will leave go, return home
To her Ottoman-husband and her children.
When she is gone I watch the dust
Settle into the sun beams.
I ring the Bell. The girl smells so sweet
A Nubian, she feels so soft,
Under my hard, war-bitten hands.
I feel her rhythm of life
As I think of my mother
I have heard she is dead.
I remember her icons
And, in my mind, I have an image of Christ,
But I will not turn the other cheek,
When I have these Turks at my feet
I will see them bleed.
I will die in battle not on a cross.
I have not the stomach for that.