biting into figs

translated by Aron Aji

A scientific drawing of a fig cluster

you come and go checking on those figs
your eyes scanning the eyelets among branches
you leave the slums of the city
the rain’s hand-pan roofs above the ruins
you come and go checking on those figs –
hasn’t even one ripened yet?

figs suckle themselves
feed on their own milk
these figs are green just fledglings
there’s still time before they ripen
plenty of time before they wean

what all happens to you under the fig trees
this dizziness the weakness in your knees
an untraceable memory
you hear voices   see shadows
under the sinuous limbs of life and death
they whisper your name to each other
they look into your eyes – fig hungry

the sun is scorching the city
everyone’s wary of the other
everyone’s wary of themselves
the sand grains rasping the shoreline
does the world speak to you? what does it say?
you walk out of a forest
to walk into a forest in your dream

for days you’ve been checking on the figs
yet there’s time before they wean
a sapphire secretion stings your mouth
your hunger teething as it craves the fruit
digs into its flesh

when did you start hoarding
what isn’t yours before it offers itself to you
you came to check on the figs
your gaze tore into the firm unripe bodies
and look: they dried up on the branches
their milk dripped into the emptiness
their skin split open like a breast

the sky has followed you all your life
the sky has known your story
you used to hide yourself in a tree hollow –
why do humans bury, then forget where they bury?
you used to run from someone – who was it?
someone hurt you before you were weaned
you used to secrete your anger into the fig’s milk
but look: not even one has ripened

Translation from the Turkish

An Istanbul-born and raised poet, Nilay Özer received her PhD from Bilkent University and teaches Turkish, creative writing, and modern Turkish literature at major universities in Istanbul. Following her early poems published in various literary magazines, Ozer’s first poetry volume, Zamana Dağılan Nar (Pomegranate scattered across time) appeared in 1999. Her second book, Ol! (Be!), received the Cemal Süreya Poetry Award in 2004. Her most recent poetry volume, Korkuluklara Giysi Yardımı (Clothes-drive for scarecrows), was published in 2015.

Aron Aji is director of the literary translation MFA program at the University of Iowa and past president of the American Literary Translators Association. A native of Turkey, his translations include three book-length works by Bilge Karasu. Aji’s co-translation (with David Gramling) of Murathan Mungan’s Valor (Northwestern, 2021) received the 2020 Global Humanities Translation Prize. Aji’s translation of Ferid Edgu’s The Wounded Age and Eastern Tales (NYRB) is forthcoming in 2022.