Dialogue

  • Issue 83 / September - October 2011



    Geography of Friendship

    Sumeyra TOSUN / Kelli Angelone

    Two Poems and Some Thoughts

    Recently I was reading a book called The Geography of Thought. To my surprise, the author claimed that Eastern and Western people had different types of cognition, meaning that they think differently, perceive the world differently, explain relations of causality differently, and solve their problems differently. As I was pondering all these differences, a friend of mine, Kelli, ebulliently came up with an idea. We would each separately write a “Where I’m from” poem and compare them. Since I was born in the East, and she was born in the West, we would see the differences between us, as well as the similarities, helping us to understand each other better and enrich us culturally and informatively. In order to write the poem I began to think about my roots and heritage and also my personal experiences. The experience made me dive deep in my thoughts and feelings, and explore myself again. Writing this poem was helpful and good for me psychologically. Here is the final product.

    Where I’m from
    By Sumeyra Tosun

    I am from the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve and from the nomads of the Toros Mountains and the grandchildren of Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi.
    I am from a specially sifted extract of clay in the very beginning, then from a clot clinging, then from a chewed lump, and then from created bones and clothed flesh.
    I am from impassable mountains, cranes that are dignified as well as shy, tireless horses,
    from the daystar to find my way, wisdom, hospitality, and righteousness, and from kismet, not luck.
    I am from Istanbul, the city of dialectics, the city that is born every day and dies every day, and the city that stands in limbo
    from the scent of narcissus in winter and baby’s breath in summer.
    I am from sweat, blood, elbow grease, and honor, not easy money.
    I am from a coffee thermos that is actually for drinking tea.
    I am from “Down with Big Brother.”
    from freedom and equality, but not, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
    I am from the eyes of Edgar Allen Poe, who saw much sorrow, cruelty, disappointment, and craziness.
    I am from a grizzled mind, rather than from white or black or even from gray.
    So I am from “both/and” instead of “either/or.”
    I am from the timeless adage, “serving people, serving God.”
    All in all, after living this long, I am in the phase of giving up Leyla in the way of finding Mawla. ,

    ***

    The fact that Sumeyra and I come from such different backgrounds continues to astonish me. There are many American cultural references that she does not understand or has never heard. Since we both live in America right now—I have lived here my whole life and Sumeyra is here for school—I get to play teacher. I love English so I teach Sumeyra and other Turkish friends of ours American phrases, mannerisms, customs, and vocabulary. She comes to me with words she does not understand and I explain. At the same time, when I am in her home with her roommates from Turkish-speaking parts of the world and different regions of Turkey, I am the one left in the dark about cultural practices and sayings, especially when everyone begins speaking Turkish. I am learning, but it is slow because here in America I have the advantage—more people speak my language.

    I found this poem called “Where I’m from” by George Ella, and I thought writing a similar poem would help me learn more about where Sumeyra is coming from. She speaks softly but likes loud music. She loves to learn and cares about people. We are both so proud of our heritage, a pride that I sense comes from an appreciation of the gifts our predecessors have given us. Sumeyra has a head-start on me: English literature is taught in many places, and American culture—movies, music, customs—is more widely known throughout the world. Before Sumeyra, the last significant thing I had heard about Turkey was Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire. But she can talk to me about American movies, American books—she’s read and seen many of them as well. She educates me about Turkish music and tells me about Turkish politics and history.

    Where I’m from
    By Kelli Angelone

    I am from the soft hills of Texas, cactus flowers,
    and the smooth stone bed of the Frio River.
    I am from sunlight through autumn leaves
    and the scent of rosemary.
    I am from cheerfulness, ingenuity, and pragmatism,
    from seamstresses9 and survivors of the Depression and World War II,
    from the ones who shared with neighbors
    and the ones who happened to come back.
    I am from the South, the sweltering heat that envelops you,
    sometimes comforting, sometimes suffocating.
    I am from this place, these people,
    but I am also from the world of books,
    from dragon riders and shapeshifters10 and Bilbo the Hobbit.11
    I am from the Birmingham jail:
    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”12
    And I am from compassion and defiance:
    “What kind of world do you think is suitable for love?”13
    But most importantly, I am made from a messaged delivered on white wings:
    “Sing for Me a new song.”14

    We were hoping with these poems that we could give you a taste of two worlds, so you could be as fascinated as we are about how different we are and how much we have in common.

    1 Holy Qur’an 23:12-14
    2 Kismet means fate or destiny
    3 Schrödinger’s Cat, by Alev Alatli
    4 1984, by George Orwell
    5 Animal Farm, by George Orwell
    6 Schrödinger’s Cat, by Alev Alatli
    7 Mawla means protector, master, or friend, and is used for God
    8 Layla and Majnun, by Fuzuli
    9 Seamstresses are people who sew for a living, usually clothes.
    10 Shapeshifters are fantasy creatures/people that can make themselves look like other creatures, even humans.
    11 Bilbo the Hobbit is a character from JRR Tolkien's novel, The Hobbit. Hobbits are shorter-than-average people (actually fantasy creatures) with big hairy feet that live in houses underground and have extra mealtimes and tea-times.
    12 Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this in a letter from jail during the Civil Rights Movement.
    13 A quote from Azar Nafisi's book, Reading Lolita in Tehran.
    14 A quote from the Holy Bible, Psalms.

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