Nedim GurselFranceWriting1999
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Blinded Birds

I entered the room, switched on the light and sat down at my writing desk. Yonder, opposite the open window, I could see the Hotel de Sens with its stone walls, turrets, loopholes, and atop its round tower, a slender cross reaching to the skies. Through the sultry summer night Jesus had sweltered. Across the sky, a bouquet of blue, green, red, and yellow lights flared up. Another bouquet soon followed, then another. The sky turned into a flower-garden. Riots of flowers kept bursting, ever more riotous and shiny in the dark. From amid the stars, sequins of blue and green trickled down to my window. Like Turkish words. Now is the time, I thought. I must begin this story on the night of July 14 as fireworks are illuminating the Paris sky. On the anniversary of the day the French people toppled the citadel of oppression and tyranny. For some time now, I had been trying to write a story whose hero was a Turkish poet. I wanted to recount the death, in exile, of a poet, who had wasted the most precious and productive years of his life in a prison on the Anatolian steppe, who was, as he would say, “devoted to love, head over heels”. I started writing. By the time I had completed the chapter depicting the white city where the poet had sojourned far from his homeland and mother tongue I was in a sweat. To rest a while, I gave myself up to the silence of the stifling night. I hoped for some breeze to blow in through the open window in front of me. The celebration was over. The courtyard of the Hotel de Sens, so recently lit by the dazzle of fireworks, was now engulfed in darkness. Everything, everything remained in the dark, the stained-glass windows of the building that housed the library, the moss-covered walls, the small window that had witnessed the hanging of the young assassin of Julien Dat, once Queen Margot’s lover. The light from my lamp fell upon the courtyard but curiously, would not brighten anything, not even the tiniest spot. It was as though the dark precinct of the courtyard had turned into the cramped space of the white page where I kept luring and shuffling, in meaningful order, the words that had been whirling in my head. There, to the sway of my will, words lined up and hearkened, after so much thrashing about to escape from the prison cell where they were committed, yearning for freedom, hurling themselves from wall to wall, wearing out gradually and losing all hope of escape. The courtyard of the Hotel de Sens was the drill ground of my beloved captives. From where I was sitting, I could command them easily. I confined them within the high wails of the courtyard, aligned them in the dark to my liking, now dismissing now conjuring them.


Thus, I wrote into the small hours. The story was nearing its end. While I pondered how I might convey the symbolic meaning of the poet’s death, a death that summoned him one morning, all of a sudden, as he stood there, reaching for the mailbox to get his newspapers, they dived in through the open window. At first, I thought moths were flocking to the lamplight. But in a trice, wings flapping, the birds made havoc of the room. My God, there were so many of them! One darted at the lamp, the others at me. I covered my face with my hands to shield my eyes. Blind birds! Birds of the night and of the dark! They dung themselves from wall to wall. As they flew about, squawking desperately, their deep black feathers scattered on the desk. They soared up from the courtyard of the Hotel de Sens and swooped down upon me, shredding my brain with sharp beaks. They attacked me ruthlessly. Did they mean to avenge the unruly words I had tamed or prevent me from telling the great poet’s story? I tumbled off my seat. Flying from the medieval labyrinths up to my room, birds by thousands drilled and drilled into my head while the last sentence of the unfinished story buzzed on and on: "Bury me in a village graveyard of Anatolia! Bury me there!"


(Translated from the Turkish by Esther Heboyan-DeVries)