Three Poems by Zafer Şenocak, translated from the Turkish by Kristin Dickinson

Untitled, Kristin Dickinson

Translator’s Note

Navigating the borders of belief and unbelief, Zafer Şenocak’s poetry collection First Light (İlk Işık, 2016) references Anatolian mysticism alongside ancient Greek culture and Christianity. Through this syncretic approach, the poems in First Light present a fractured version of the self marked through and through by its encounter with others. As the translations below attest, this form of encounter is as much metaphysical as it is linguistic.


That which befell you neither occurred nor didn’t occur

You neither heard it nor didn’t hear it
You neither saw it nor didn’t see it 
It was inside of you, it was your voice 
But it was also outside, the voice of a stranger 
It was both a voice and it wasn’t 
It reached you and departed from you 
It was the one arriving and departing 
It was neither heard nor was it silent
Neither within nor without 
It was the one waiting and not waiting for you
As for you, you were neither the one accompanying it
Nor standing afar from it 
Catch fire now, but don’t burn
Remain where you are nothing

Başına gelen ne geldi ne gelmedi 

Onu ne duydun ne duymadın 
Ne gördün ne görmedin
İçindeydi senin sesindi o 
Hem de dışarıda bir yabancının sesi 
O hem bir sesti hem de değildi 
Sana varmıştı ve senden ayrılmıştı
O hem varandı hem de ayrılandı 
Ne duyuldu ne de sustu 
Ne içeride ne dışarıda 
Oydu seni bekleyen hem de beklemeyen 
Sense ne ona eşlik edendin 
Ne de uzağında duran 
Tutuş şimdi ama yanma 
Hiç olduğun yerde kal 


At the end of every season 

You must sadly but freely 
Touch the words
A story growing 
on silent but full lips 
You must create a face, a glance anew 
Forgotten words come to mind while making love 
Were there also those kinds of words
Present but absent, open but closed 
A handful of sky behind a door 
The sun’s dust will rise soon 
At the end of every season 
A new world 
A new sun will appear 
From the doorway

Her mevsimin sonunda 

Hüzünle ama özgürce 
Dokunmalı sözcüklere 
Suskun ama dolgun dudaklarda 
Büyüyen bir hikâye 
Bir yüzü bir bakışı yeniden yaratmalı 
Sevişirken unutulan sözcükler gelir insanın aklına 
Böyle sözcükler de mi vardı 
Var ama yok kapalı ama açık
Bir kapının ardında bir avuç gökyüzü 
Güneşin tozu kalkacak birazdan 
Her mevsimin sonunda 
Yeni bir dünya 
Yeni bir güneş görünecek 
Kapının aralığından 


Discover the place where you live

While gently searching 
For a word on your own
With every return
The familiarity of the place into which you have withdrawn 
Compels you to say – it is what it is 
Is it raining outside? 
Let there be no refuge for a single overflowing drop 
Just down there behind the wall 
There is a reckless world 
Wrapping itself around 
Your tongue and your bones 
An arrogant tongue wrapped openly in letters 
There is no need to descend in order to become smaller 
As you expand to the firmament 
You vanish inside what you already know
Isn’t everything about vanishing without diminishing 
For all beings
As long as sadness doesn’t transform into effort 
Spring never comes 
The word’s rightful owner 
Sent you inside himself
To see 
You have no choice but to be like an eye 
You’ll endure these walls 
And every corner you press your ear against 
Will emerge without having found a place to hide 
Do you have a choice but to remain under surveillance? 
To be silent
To be silent while looking at yourself? 
The thing you are searching for is neither inside or out 
It’s on the edge of your memory 
Like a man, sitting at the water’s edge 
The water is the image he is thinking of 
And the wisteria on the hilltops is the painter’s dream
Perhaps he didn’t want to hide 
But don’t think about that
Thinking will hurt the water’s skin

Usul usul kendi kendine 

Bir sözcük ararken 
Yaşadığın yeri keşfet 
Her dönüşte içine kapandığın mekânın 
Olduğu kadar oldu dedirten alışılagelmişliği 
Dışarada yağmur mu var 
Taşıran bir damla olmasın sığınağı 
Az ötesinde dilini ve kemiğini saran 
Duvarın ardında delidolu bir dünya 
Apaçık harflere bürünmüş tafralı bir dil 
Azalmak için alçalmaya gerek yok 
Semaya açılan da bildiği şeyin içinde 
Yok oluyor 
Yaşayanlar için her şey
Azalmadan yok olmaktan ibaret değil mi 
Hüzün gayrete dönüşmedikçe 
Bahar gelmez 
Söz sahibi görmek için 
İçine göndermiş seni 
Göz olmamak gibi bir seçeneğin yok 
Bu duvarla dayanacaksın 
Kulağını dayadığın her köşe 
Saklanılacak bir yer olmaktan çıkar 
Göz altında olmamak gibi bir seçeneğin var mı 
Susmak kendi kendine bakarken susmak
Aradığın ne içerde ne dışarda 
Belleğinin kenarında 
Su kıyısında oturan adam gibi 
Su onun düşündüğünün resmidir 
Tepesindeki salkımlar ise ressamın hayali 
Belki saklanmak istemiyordu 
Düşünme onu 
Düşünmek acıtır suyun tenini 

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Zafer Şenocak was born in Turkey and moved to Germany as a child; he has lived in Berlin as a freelance writer since 1989. Şenocak has written widely on issues of diversity in Germany, migration and exile, the Turkish diaspora, and the small distances and great fears of a globalizing Europe. Historical questions of mixed and broken identities are key to his novels, which utilize nonlinear modes of storytelling to emphasize the fragmented nature of memory. His writing includes poetry in German and Turkish, novels, and long essays. He is also a frequent contributor to nationwide German newspapers, like Tageszeitung, Tagesspiegel and Die Welt. Şenocak’s work has been translated into English, Spanish, Italian, French, and Czech. He has been a writer in residence at UC Berkeley, M.I.T., Oberlin College, Dartmouth College, and the University of Arizona. A volume of his German-language poems appeared in English translation as Door Languages in 2008 (trans. Elizabeth Oehlkers-Wright, Zephyr Press). And his essay collection Atlas of a Tropical Germany was edited and translated by Prof. Leslie A. Adelson in 2000 (Nebraska Press).

Kristin Dickinson is an assistant professor of German studies at the University of Michigan. She is a scholar of German and Turkish literature, with interests in questions of world literature, translation, migration, and multilingualism. Her book, DisOrientations: German Turkish Cultural Contact in Translation (1811-1946), was published by Penn State University Press in 2021. Together with her diverse articles, it challenges racial, ethno-linguistic, and geopolitical definitions of German- and Turkishness by highlighting longstanding histories of literary-cultural contact and exchange. Her translations from German and (Ottoman) Turkish have appeared in TRANSIT, the Turkish-German Studies Yearbook, Words without Borders, EuropeNow, and a PEN Translation Slam.