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.

They said.

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.

Image result for constantinople st sophia cross



These missionary times ►


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Mae Foreman

Tue 30th Apr 2019 11:36

Love Lord Byron! Dear John, It impresses me how fervently you seek your origins sifting through the mosaic of the old Ottoman Empire. I had never thought what it would be like to not be certain that you belong in some ethnic or religious group and the only clue you have is that you were an Ottoman citizen. It never dawned on me that it is possible for one to not know what their heritage is; the Ottoman Empire being so multicultural. I fond it intriguing!
Thank you?

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John Marks

Fri 26th Apr 2019 23:00

What a poignant and personal take on the fall of Constantinople Mae. Thank you dear. I don't know, if I was Greek (or Armenian or Assyrian), that I could view matters with such forbearance. Lord Byron, good friend of Greece and enemy of the Ottomans, who died in the war of Greek Independence, wrote some lines that I have often in my mind:

I have lived, and have not lived in vain:

My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,

And my frame perish even in conquering pain,

But there is that within me which shall tire

Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire.....

Canto IV of Childe Harold:

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Mae Foreman

Thu 25th Apr 2019 22:34

"Why don't you sing, little bird, the way you used to, once?
"How can I sing? They clipped my little wings...
They clipped my little wings, they took away my voice...
They took our Constantinople.
They took our Constantinople and our Hagia Sophia.
Bitterly Mother Mary cries."

That's what it says.

For what it's worth I believe in peace and humanity above all, even though I am very much familiar with everything you so vividly painted in your poignant strong, poem dear John!
Thank you?

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John Marks

Thu 25th Apr 2019 22:14

Listen to the music Vautlaw, it is a beautiful Greek lament for the fall of Konstantinopoulos in 1453.The taking of Constantinople is still celebrated by the Turks on the 29th May every year. Memory is long. Thanks for reading and commenting. John

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Thu 25th Apr 2019 21:55

Wow! Heartbreaking details. Next level storytelling in just a few words. Feels like it should be a best selling book or movie. Perhaps then justice would prevail and suffering not be in vain. Thanks for sharing John. ?

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