SUE LITTLETON: Poems of Istanbul
RAMADAN
THE MEDUSAS
THE CATS OF TOPKAPI PALACE
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RAMADAN THE MEDUSAS THE CATS OF TOPKAPI PALACE  

RAMADAN
At four this morning we were awakened by the beating of a drum, the shrill sounds of a most unmelodic flute, the nasal prayers of the imams echoing from loudspeakers in the graceful minarets. Ramadan holds the ancient city in thrall; the Moslems fast throughout the day. In a busy restaurant we share a communal table, almost too embarrassed to eat; a handsome man has a full plate of food before him, an unlit cigarette in his fingers, as he waits for the afternoon prayers to blast from the minarets and release him from his vows until tomorrow at dawn. We walk through the immense marketplace, smiling; where earlier we had been besieged by wheedling voices, "Hello!" "You Italian?" "Hello Lady, Sir! What language you speak?" shopkeepers tempting us from all sides with everything from leather coats smooth as cream, to painted china plates to richly embroidered velvet caftans , to display windows filled with showers of gold bracelets, now there is blessed silence, hot sweet apple tea in little glasses, the mouth-watering smell of roasting lamb. Little groups of men and boys relax together, smoke from their newly-lit cigarettes drifting like early morning mist over the Bosporus, leaving us to observe the wonders about us in mutual peace
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RAMADAN THE MEDUSAS THE CATS OF TOPKAPI PALACE  


THE MEDUSAS
The huge cistern lies beneath the plaza near the Hippodrome, that great oval track, now an ordinary paved street, where the Romans once held furious chariot races. The cantilevered arches, supported by mighty, pock-marked Greek columns, bell and curve sixty feet overhead. Toward the rear of the cistern the snake-haired heads of the two Medusas, once forgotten, ignored beneath tons of water stored to meet the needs of the Roman city of Constantinople, smile enigmatically at their modern admirers. To brace the last columns at the rear of the cistern, the Roman engineers laid one of the huge faces on its side, resting on one high-boned cheek. With even more callous disregard for the lady's dignity, they placed the second head upside down beneath another tall pillar. From what ancient edifice came these two beautiful carved countenances no one knows. The serpent was an early symbol of wisdom, as well as a lively component of Medusa's writhing locks, and these may well be goddesses from some Ephesians temple . . . For over two thousand years these captive enchantresses, debased into slaves of the Roman empire, have waited patiently, ignobly placed, submerged. Today, their strong features still half-covered with water, they are the uncrowned Queens of this magnificent Cistern and their subjects come from all over the world to pay them homage.
SUE LITTLETON: Poems of Istanbul
POETRYREPAIRS 13.02: 017
Poetry endangers the established order  of the soul - Plato

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RAMADAN THE MEDUSAS THE CATS OF TOPKAPI PALACE  


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
SUE LITTLETON: Poems of Istanbul

RAMADAN
THE MEDUSAS
THE CATS OF TOPKAPI PALACE
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