Thirty-Three Bullets

By | February 8, 2014

yesilulas_ahmedarifThirty-Three Bullets


This is the Mengene mountain
When dawn creeps up at the lake Van
This is the child of Nimrod
When dawn creeps up against the Nimrod
One side of you is avalanches, the Caucasian sky
The other side a rug, Persia
At mountain tops glaciers, in bunches
Fugitive pigeons at water-pools
And herds of deer
And partridge flocks…

Their courage cannot be denied
In one-to-one fights they are unbeaten
These thousand years, the servants of this area
Come, how shall we give the news?
This is not a flock of cranes
Nor a constellation in the sky
But a heart with thirty-three bullets
Thirty-three rivers of blood
Not flowing
All calmed to a lake on this mountain


A rabbit came up from the foot of the hill
Its back is motley
Its belly milk-white
A mountain rabbit, pregnant, lost up here
Its heart heaved to its mouth, poor thing
It can draw repentance from man.
The hour was solitary, a solitary time
It was faultless, naked dawn

One of the thirty-three looked
In his body the heavy void of hunger
Hair and beard all tangled
Lice on his collar
He looked, and his arms were wounded
This lad with hellion heart
Looked once at the rabbit
Then looked behind
His delicate carbine came to his mind
Sulking under his pillow
Then came the young mare he brought from the plain of Harran
Her mane blue-beaded
A blaze on her forehead
Three fetlocks white
Her cantering easy and generous
His chesnut mare
How they had flown in front of Hozat!

If he were not now
Helpless and tied like this
The cold barrel of a gun behind him
He could have hidden on these heights
These mountains, the friendly mountains, know your worth
Thank God, my hands will not put me to shame
These hands that can flick off with the first shot
The burning tobacco ash
Or the tongue of the viper
Sparkling in the sun
These eyes were not duped even once
By the ravines waiting for avalanches
By the soft, snowy betrayal of cliffs
These knowing eyes
No use
He was going to be shot
The order was final
Now the blind reptiles will devour his eyes
The vultures his heart.


In a solitary corner of the mountains
At the hour of morning prayer
I lie
Long, bloody…

I have been shot
My dreams are darker than night
No one can find a good omen in them
My life gone before its time
I cannot put it into words
A pasha sends a codded message
And I am shot, without inquest, without judgment

Kinsman, write my story as it is
Or they might think it a fable
These are not rosy nipples
But a dumdum bullet
Shattered in my mouth…


They applied the decree of death
They stained
The half-awakened wind of dawn
And the blue mist of the Nimrod
In blood
They stacked their guns there
Searched us
Feeling our corpses
They took away
My red sash of Kermanshah weave
My prayer beads and tobacco pouch
And left
Those were all gifts to me from friends
All from the Persian lands

We are guardians, relatives, tied by blood
We exchange with families
Across the river
Our daughters, these many centuries
we are neighbours
Shoulder to shoulder
Our chickens mingle together
Not out of ignorance
But poverty
We never got used to passports

This is the guilt that kills us
We end up
Being called

Kinsman, write my story as it is
Or they might think it a fable
These are not rosy nipples
But a dumdum bullet
Shattered in my mouth


Shoot, bastards
Shoot me
I do not die easyly
I am live under the ashes
I have words buried in my belly
For those who understand
My father gave his eyes on the Urfa front
And gave his three brothers
Three young cypresses
Three chunks of mountain without their share of life
And when friends, guardians, kin
Met the French bullets
Out of towers, hills, minarets

My young uncle Nazif
His moustache still new
Good horseman
Shoot, brothers, he said
This is the day of honour
And reared his horse…

Kindsman, write my story as it is
Or they might think it a fable
These are not rosy nipples
But a dumdum bullet
Shattered in my mouth…


Translated by  Murat Nemet-Nejat (1982)

Ahmed Arif (1927-1991)
Studied philosophy at Ankara University. His education was interrupted by several political arrests. Published in various literary journals, his poems were widely read due to their original lyricism and imagery influenced by Anatolian folk cultures. He has published only one collection of poetry: Hasretinden Prangalar Eskittim (Fetters Worn Out by Longing/1968) – a volume which has gone through a record number of printings.

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