Windows to Europe

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excerpt from Bugün Hiç Silah Sesi Yok-Soydaşınız Balık Burcu


Mehmet Yashin

Mehmet Yashin is one of the internationally best-known contemporary poets and authors from Cyprus. He has published 10 poetry collections, 3 novels, 3 essay collections, 3 anthologies and literary studies of multilingual Cypriot poetry and literature. His books have played an important role in re-defining the literary traditions of Cyprus, as well as the Turkish and Greek writing literatures. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his prize-winning books have been published in various European countries.

excerpt from There’s no Sound of Gunfire Today-Pisces Your Kinsman

Mehmet Yashin


Translated by: Taner Baybars

I used to talk within myself so that no one could hear me,
and they all suspected wisdom in my silence!
Turkish was dangerous, must not be spoken,
and Greek was absolutely forbidden...
My elders who wanted to save me, were waiting,
each one trigger-ready before a machine-gun.
Anyway, everyone was then a willing soldier.
English remained right in the middle,
a slender paper-knife for cutting schoolbooks,
a tongue to be spoken at certain times
especially with the Greeks!
I was often unsure in which language to shed tears,
the life I lived wasn’t foreign, but one of translation –
my mother-tongue one thing, my motherland another,
and I, again, altogether different...
Even in those days of blackouts it became obvious
I could never be the poet of any country,
because I belonged to a minority. And ‘Freedom’s still
a little word uneasy in any nation’s lexicon...
Then in my poems, the three languages got into a wild tangle:
Neither the Turks nor the Greeks
could hear my inner voice, nor the Others...
But I don’t blame them, it was wartime.

Arodes village/Paphos, 1991

This following text is an extract from Mehmet Yashin’s prize winning novel in Istanbul entitled Pisces Your Kinsman (1994), which has made 5th editions in its original language and translated into four other European languages (English, French, Italian, Greek).


Translated by: Umit Hussein

Shall I tell you the truth? I didn’t want to write this story. I wanted to describe the day the war ended. When I sat in front of the typewriter I started to think long and hard about it: “The last day of gunfire!” Just think, the last, the very last day of gunfire…

The woman on the balcony murmured “Strange: there’s no sound of gunfire today.” Until just yesterday, even though there was no actual fighting close by, you could hear the sound of gunfire from the bridge made of sandbags and whitewashed barrels filled with earth dividing the town in two. The machine guns fired their bullets without pausing for breath. The dust clouds rising up from the barricades turned translucent and floated to the towns, leaving the acrid smell of gunpowder lingering in the houses. The local children had “Who Can Guess First” competitions to see who could say which gun had produced which bullet sound. They would shout out in great excitement, trying to pass themselves off as scholars. Today they weren’t around either. Life was out of breath from so much running around. People, machine guns, mountains, vehicles, combat boots, insects on trees… everything.

The balcony door closed with a grating metallic sound. The woman marched up to the child who had been reading the same page of the book in her hand for the last hour. “Put that book away!” Taken aback by her sharp tone of voice, she stopped. She walked back to the balcony. Resolutely this time. She paused in the ringing silence. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she half closed her eyes. The surveillance plane taking off under her gaze rose within her field of vision. It glided towards the large buildings. It flew over the post office building, St Nicholas’ church. Without turning her head the woman spoke in a shattered voice:

If we could only find out what’s going on. There’s nothing on the radio ….. Is it an infiltration exercise I wonder? They’re picking up reinforcements!... My God! What are we in for now? … They’ve got us surrounded. Look, there’s no sound of gunfire.

I’ve decided not to continue with the story. It lacks something. Don’t you get that impression too? The last day of gunfire probably won’t be like this. But what will it be like? … The best thing is to have a happy beginning

The rooster, who jumped up on the wooden box in the coop to crow, was taken aback, “Aaaaa!” it said, “there’s no sound of gunfire!” It cocked its red crest and flapped its wings. The decorated copper plates shimmered in the sunlight. Swaggering to the hens in the chicken coop he said “See? I crow even before the guns start!” The only reason why men are able to crow is because women keep quiet. Because deep down they can sense this, they feel the need to keep cocking their crests and bragging.

The cicada, that had lived all its life in the redwood tree beside the chicken coop, launched into a song. On and on and on it buzzed, like a broken record.

The guns have lost the race against me
My song has beat the bullets
Zirozi rozi
The guns have lost the race against me
My song has beat the bullets
Zirozi zirozi

The guns have lost my song beat them
Zizirozi zirozi ziziro

The fat ant, who spent his life priding himself on his bravery but cowered in his hole under the redwood tree whenever he heard the sound of gunfire poked his head out. He was a downright lazy little loafer, who wouldn’t stop bragging to everyone about how hardworking he was. Because he lived in terror of criticism he made it his business to criticise others. “You fool!” he scolded the cicada: “You can’t hear the guns because you’re incapable of hearing any sound other than your own voice.” As soon as he had finished speaking he dived straight back into his refuge. Men who keep droning on about work and obligations and preparations for the winter and try to cover up their ineptitude when it comes to singing songs by bragging about hunting, chopping wood, repairing electrical gadgets are in fact wildly envious of the cicadas. That’s why they try and shut them up: “Get yourself a pot to piss in!... Cut out all that giddiness and get a roof over your heeeead!..”

The old man having a nap in the sunbed in the garden didn’t hear the insects saying those things. Only the rooster’s crow rang vaguely in his ear. He opened his eyes, blinking. Slowly reaching for the handkerchief on his head he dried his sweat. While trying to shift his head into the most comfortable position he heaved a deep sigh: “Ahhh, old age, I’m well and truly past it! I can’t even hear the sound of gunfire anymore.”

The best thing would be not to write this story. I’ve gone and cocked up again. The war’s about to end and here am I, on an auspicious day like this. worrying about roosters and ants. I sat in front of the typewriter staring into space for a while. Then, to cure me of the frustration of feeling incompetent, I decided to ride down to the beach. My bike was passing by a division of soldiers, which made a voice inside me cry out: “Yes, fine, the last day of gunfire should start at the barricades.”

The soldier on the boundary lit another cigarette. As he fidgeted with the lighter in his hand he thought “There’s no sound of gunfire today.” He took a drag from his cigarette, “I don’t care anymore, let whatever’s going to happen happen!” And only then did he start to think, for the first time, about what might actually happen. Using his own hands he pressed down on his heart to stop the lifebird inside his ribcage from trying to fly. Or was it the sound of gunfire that was stopping me hearing your wings flapping? Ah, yes, I’m afraid! But I wasn’t even afraid when I was fighting in the war. Don’t be ridiculous, am I going to be afraid now. What’s so ridiculous about it?... What if I die! So what, if I die I die. What am I thinking these stupid things for? I just am. Am I thinking them? What? I don’t understand… There’s a clock in my brain that was wound up and wound up and wound up, and then just stopped, at the precise moment when the war started. Full to bursting, and at the same time completely empty. What on earth am I doing now on top of these sand bags? Perching like a hen… I’m going to rip off these sweaty old rags that are clinging to me!... Son, this is crazy. Cut out the crap! I’m going mad. What’s going on man!... I’m going into the sea. Take your clothes off son, take your clothes off. In this heat, in those boots. They still haven’t fired a single bullet. The idiots! Everything was hunky dory yesterday. I’m going to tear off these soldiers’ rags and go into the… The commander said fire wherever you hear Greek songs playing. What a thing to say! But you were the one who loaded the charger yesterday. I think I’m going mad! I think we’ve officially turned into Pavlov’s dog. We fire bullets at Greek songs. The sound of gunfire has gone, and that’s the end of our peace of mind. Damn nuisances! Who? I’m still walking around with the charger I loaded this morning… Fire, damn you! Sons of whores! Come on, fire!


The sound of gunfire was heard again. The woman on the balcony breathed a sigh of relief. The old man on the sunbed felt happy because he could still hear.
The cicada shut up. The fat ant said “Didn’t I tell you so?” and dived back into his hole the moment he had said it. Besides, men always turn out to be right, otherwise the order of the world is upset.

I too have found peace of mind. I decided it wasn’t incompetence that was stopping me from writing this story and took the scribblings you have just read out of my typewriter.