A Mother

 

Translated from Turkish by Nermin Menemencioğlu

 

The woman must have been out washing
A bundle on her arm, her rough hands chapped with soda
Like all Jewish women of her age
She wore a faded black velvet coat
In her looks an expression of complaint, of tiredness

The freckled boy with straight red hair
Unsold newspapers under his arm
Like all small children who are cold
Sniffled, blowing on his hands
Shuffled along in his old shoes
Keeping step with his mother

They went ahead, I behind
One night in March, after eleven
So we walked from Taksim to Tünel
They talked in soft voices to each other
As though a windmill were turning, turning
As though life, very slowly, were flowing
Like turbid, dirty waters
Between the great dark buildings

 

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archival photograph of Turkish poet Necati Cumali. Black and white photograph of Cumali at approximately 60 years old.Necati Cumali (1921-2001), born in Florina, Greece to Turkish parents was a celebrated poet and fiction writer. He wrote 15 books of poetry and a number of books of prose. There is a statue commemorating him in Şairler Sofası Parkı in Istanbul.

Nermin Menemencioğlu was a translator and critic. Her translations into English of Turkish poetry were published internationally. She was the co-editor of the Penguin Book of Turkish Verse in 1978. Her 1971 translation of Leylâ Erbil’s seminal 20th century novel, A Strange Woman, was re-released in 2020.

“A Mother” was originally published in the Winter 1960-1961 (Vol. 4 No. 2) of The Literary Review, a special issue on Turkish literature curated by Clarence R. Decker, and is retrieved here as part of our Vigil for Mother’s Day 2022