THE CATS OF TOPKAPI PALACE
Shhh! I know a secret.
The cats of Topkapi told me.
There, in the Second Courtyard of the Old Palace,
on a bleak winter's day,
a gold and white beauty, her tail heavy with bracelets,
slid daintily down the branches of a small leafless tree
in answer to my low call.
As I gazed at her piquant face, I heard her softly mew,
"Look into my eyes, stranger person who speaks to cats --
look deep into my wild wide green eyes,
and I will purr you a magic tale.
You see me now, an untidy, scruffy little she-cat,
thin and hungry, yet free as tiny feathers floating on the wind.
Once I was a sultan's young concubine,
a miserable creature ignored by the sultan,
cursed and teased by his mother and his favorites
who used me as their slave."
The cat stretched beneath my stroking hand,
flexing her claws in bliss.
"Now I mate where I please, with the tom that pleases me!"
A second cat approached me, black as the ebony walking stick
in the sultan's treasury.
Calmly he seated himself before me in the dry brown grass,
his tail wrapped neatly about his feet.
Licking one curved paw, he shot a yellow glance at me.
"You suppose you see a mere tomcat," he meowed softly,
pausing to scrub at a battered ear.
"I was once a lowly black eunuch of the harem,
a servile, sexless thing, dedicated to scheming and plotting
in lieu of love.
Now I am a virile he-cat, and I mate and fight
and come and go when I please!"
More cats came to sit around me,
smoothing their frowsy coats
with rough little pink tongues,
hissing and cuffing at each other.
"We are the cats of the Palace of Topkapi,"
they yowled discordantly,
weaving gracefully back and forth as they circled me,
tails high as the janissaries' pennants two hundred years past.
"We are all that is left
to recall the proud sultans and their retinues --
in our small sleek heads
are caught the memories of the mighty Ottoman Empire!"
Shhhh! It's a secret!
I heard it from the Cats of Topkapi!
SUE LITTLETON: Poems of Istanbul
POETRYREPAIRS 13.02: 017