فصل 41

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فصل 41

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Everyone Has His Own Snowflake

the missing green notebook

The Place Where the World Ends,” the nineteenth poem Ka wrote in Kars, was also his last. As we already know, he recorded eighteen of his poems in the green notebook he carried everywhere he went; he wrote them down just as he first “heard” them, even if a few words here and there were missing. The only poem he did not write down was the one he read onstage the night of the revolution. Ka alluded to it in two of his letters from Frankfurt, written but never sent to Ipek. In both ˙ instances he called it “The Place Where God Does Not Exist” and as he’d been unable to get it out of his mind, he said there was no finishing his new collection until he’d found it; he would be grateful if Ipek could ˙ search the Border City Television archives on his behalf. When I first read this letter in my hotel room in Frankfurt, I sensed a certain disquiet between the lines. It was almost as if Ka was worried that Ipek would ˙ think he was using the problem of the poem as an excuse to write her love letters.

In the twenty-ninth chapter, I described how, on returning to my hotel room in Frankfurt one evening, feeling pleasantly tipsy and still holding the Melinda tapes in my hand, I happened on Ka’s diagram of a snowflake in a notebook picked at random. While I can’t possibly know Ka’s exact intent, I can say that I spent a few days reading through all the notebooks, and I believed I was beginning to grasp Ka’s purpose in giving each of his nineteen Kars poems a position on this snowflake.

After leaving Kars, Ka apparently read a number of books about snow, and one of his discoveries was this: Once a six-pronged snowflake crystallizes, it takes between eight and ten minutes for it to fall through the sky, lose its original shape, and vanish; when, with further inquiry, he discovered that the form of each snowflake is determined by the temperature, the direction and strength of the wind, the altitude of the cloud, and any number of other mysterious forces, Ka decided that snowflakes have much in common with people. It was a snowflake that inspired “I, Ka,” the poem he wrote sitting in the Kars public library, and later, when he was to arrange all nineteen titles for his new collection, Snow, he would assign “I, Ka” to the center point of that same snowflake.

Applying the same logic to “Heaven,” “Chess,” and “The Chocolate Box” he was able to see that each of these poems, too, had its natural and unique position on the imaginary snowflake. Soon he was certain that every poem in his new collection—and, indeed, everything that made him the man he was—could be indicated on the same set of crystalline axes. It was, in short, a snowflake that mapped out the spiritual course of every person who had ever lived. The three axes onto which he mapped his poems—Memory, Imagination, and Reason—were, he said, inspired by the classifications in Bacon’s tree of knowledge, but he wrote extensively about his own efforts to elucidate the meaning of the six-pronged snowflake’s nineteen points.

Ka’s three notebooks recording his thoughts about the poems he wrote in Kars are, for the most part, attempts to discover the significance of that geometry, but it should be clear by now that he was also trying to puzzle out the meaning of his own life, and we should take care to see these objectives in the same light. For example, to read his musings on where to place the poem “To Be Shot and Killed” is to be struck by the priority he gives to the fear that inspired the poem. He explains why it is that a poem inspired by fear belongs near the axis labeled Imagination, at the top of the axis labeled Memory, and near enough the poem entitled “The Place Where the World Ends” to be under its influence. Lurking throughout these commentaries is the belief that his poetic materials were shaped by mysterious external forces. And by the time he was recording these thoughts in the notebooks, Ka was convinced that everyone has his own snowflake; individual existences might look identical from afar, but to understand one’s own eternally mysterious uniqueness one had only to plot the mysteries of his or her own snowflake.

Ka’s exegesis of his new poetry collection and of his personal snowflake was vast (Why was it that “The Chocolate Box” was located on the axis labeled Imagination? How had the poem called “All Humanity and the Stars” shaped Ka’s own snowflake?), but we shall not dwell on these notes any longer than our novel requires. As a young poet, Ka had many unkind things to say about older peers who took themselves too seriously, especially those poets who spent their later years convinced that every bit of nonsense they produced would one day inform serious literary debate and who carved their own statues, oblivious of the fact that no one wanted to look at them.

In the harsh light of many years spent criticizing poets of obscure verse, in thrall to the myths of modernism, there are but one or two excuses for Ka’s extensive self-commentary. A careful reading reveals that Ka did not believe himself to be the true author of any of the poems that came to him in Kars. Rather, he believed himself to be but the medium, the amanuensis, in a manner well exampled by predecessors of his modernist bêtes noires. But as he wrote in several places, having produced the poems, he was now determined to throw off his passivity, and it was by coming to understand them—by revealing their hidden symmetry—that he hoped to achieve this purpose. But there was a more practical urgency as well: Without understanding what his Kars poems meant, he could have no hope of filling in the blanks, of completing the half-finished lines—or of recovering his lost poem, “The Place Where God Does Not Exist”—and thus no hope of completing the book. For after Ka returned to Frankfurt, no poem ever came to him again.

It’s clear from his notes and letters that by the end of his fourth year back in Frankfurt, Ka had managed to divine the hidden logic of his poems and bring the book to its final form. This is why, when I returned to my Frankfurt hotel room with the papers and notebooks and other

belongings rescued from his apartment, I sat there until dawn, drinking raki and sifting through the remains: I kept telling myself that his poems had to be among his things. I stayed up all night, poring over his notebooks and inspecting his old pajamas, his Melinda tapes, his ties, his books, his lighters (I realized that one of these was the lighter that Kadife had asked him to pass on to Blue), until finally I drifted off to sleep on a sea of nightmares and yearnings, dreams and visions. (Ka came to me in one frightening dream to say, “You are old.”)

It was noon when I awoke to spend the rest of the day roaming the wet and snowy streets of Frankfurt, and although I no longer had Tarkut Ölçün at my side, I did my best to gather as much information on Ka as I could. The two women with whom he had had relations during the eight years before his visit to Kars were happy to speak to me; I told them I was writing my friend’s biography. His first lover, Nalan, didn’t even know he was a poet, so it was hardly surprising that she knew nothing of his new collection. She was married now and with her husband ran two döner shops and a travel agency. After telling me baldly that Ka had been a contentious, peevish man, always quick to take offense, she cried a little. (The thing that grieved her most was having sacrificed her youth to her ideals.)

His second lover, Hildegard, was still single, and I guessed at once that she would know nothing of the contents of his last poems, or indeed of his having completed a collection entitled Snow. I may have overstated Ka’s fame as a poet in Turkey, and certainly she played upon my sheepishness at having been caught out; in a rather flirtatious manner she told me that after her involvement with Ka she had stopped taking her summer holidays in Turkey. Ka, she said, was a dutiful, clever, lonesome child whose life was dominated by a restless hunger for mothering—he knew he’d never find it, but also that if he did he’d run the other way—so while he was an easy man to love, he was an impossible one to live with. Ka had never spoken to her about me. (I’ve no idea why I asked her that question or, indeed, why I mention it here again.) After an interview that lasted an hour and a quarter, Hildegard showed me something I had failed to notice: The top segment of the index finger on her beautiful slenderwristed right hand was missing. She added with a smile that once, in a moment of anger, Ka had mocked her for this defect.

Ka had finished writing out his book in longhand and, as usual, refrained from having it typed or copied; instead, just as he had done with his previous books, with manuscript in hand he went on a reading tour, visiting Kassel, Braunschweig, Hannover, Osnabrück, Bremen, and Hamburg. At the invitation of the various city councils, and with the assistance of Tarkut Ölçün, I embarked on my own lightning tour of literary evenings in those same cities. Like Ka, ever the great admirer of Germany’s efficient and immaculate trains, I traveled from city to city enjoying the very Protestant comforts Ka had described in one of his poems; as he must have done, I sat by the window peacefully watching the reflections of the grassy plains, the villages with the sweet little churches nestled in the mountain foothills, and the little stations full of children with their bright raincoats and backpacks; the two Turks sent by the association to greet me would listen impassively, with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, as I explained my wish to do exactly as Ka had done on his own tour seven weeks earlier; and so in every city I checked into a cheap little hotel like Ka’s and went off with my hosts to a Turkish restaurant where over spinach börek and döner we discussed politics and agreed what a shame it was that Turks had so little interest in culture; after the meal I would wander through the cold empty city and pretend I was Ka walking the same streets to escape the painful memories of Ipek. In the evening, before a ˙ gathering of fifteen or twenty people interested in politics, literature, and things Turkish, I would read halfheartedly a page or two of my most recent novel, and then, switching to the subject of poetry, I would announce that I was a close friend of the great poet Ka, who had recently been shot dead on a street in Frankfurt; did anyone remember anything about his last poems, “which he read here only a short time ago?”

Most of those on hand at these literary evenings had skipped Ka’s poetry reading, and it was clear that those who had attended had done so for political reasons or simply by chance, judging by the little they could tell me about his poems as compared with the copious notice they had taken of the charcoal-colored coat he had never taken off, his pale complexion, his unkempt hair, and his nervous mannerisms. But even those uninterested in Ka’s life and poetry were quick to take interest in his death. I heard quite a few conspiracy theories: He’d been assassinated by Islamists, the Turkish secret service, Armenians, German skinheads, Kurds, and Turkish nationalists. But it also turned out that at every event there had been a few sensitive souls who had paid Ka careful attention.

Those keenly interested in literature confirmed that he had indeed just finished a new collection, that he had read several poems from it— “Dream Streets,” “Dog,” “Chocolate Box,” and “Love”—but they were unable to recall anything useful about the individual pieces, apart from their being very difficult. At several events, Ka had mentioned that he’d written the poems in Kars, sometimes implying he meant them as elegies, particularly for those longing for the towns and villages they’d left behind.

At the end of one event, a dark-haired woman in her thirties came forward and, after explaining that she was widowed with a child, she told me of having approached Ka in a similar manner after his reading and that they had discussed a poem called “The Place Where God Does Not

Exist”; she believed he had read only four lines of this long poem because he didn’t want to offend anyone. No matter how hard I tried to draw her out, this careful poetry lover couldn’t remember any of the poem’s words, only that it described “a terrifying landscape.” But having sat in the front row during Ka’s Hamburg appearance, she could at least confirm he’d been reading from a green notebook.

That evening I took the same train that Ka had taken from Hamburg to Frankfurt. When I left the station, I took the same route also—walking down the Kaiserstrasse and stopping now and then to wander through a sex shop. (Although it had been only a week since my arrival in Germany, there was already a new Melinda video.) When I arrived at the place where my friend had been shot, I stopped, and this time I acknowledged what I had already accepted unconsciously: that when Ka fell to the ground, his assassin must have made off with the green notebook. Now I could hold but one consoling hope following this futile weeklong hunt across Germany and all the evening hours poring over Ka’s notes: Perhaps I might retrieve one poem from the video archives of a television station in Kars.

Back in Istanbul, I found myself tuning in to the state channel’s endof-day news broadcasts, to hear the Kars weather reports and to judge in what sort of climate I might be received. Like Ka, I arrived in Kars in the early evening, after a bus journey lasting a day and a half; bag in hand, I timidly negotiated a room for myself at the Snow Palace Hotel (where there was no sign of the father or his two mysterious daughters). I then went out to explore the city, taking those same snow-covered pavements Ka told of having walked four years before, and while I wouldn’t say the compass of my walk equaled his, I did go far enough to discover that the establishment he had known as the Green Pastures Café was now a wretched beer hall. In any event, I shouldn’t want my readers to imagine that I was trying to become his posthumous shadow. As Ka had so often suggested to me, I simply did not understand poetry well enough, nor the great sadness from which it issues, and so there had been a wall between us, a wall that now divided me not just from the melancholy city described in his notes but from the impoverished place I was now seeing with my own eyes. There was, of course, one person who nevertheless observed a resemblance between us; it is that person who now binds us together. But let’s not talk about that yet.

Whenever I remember the astonishment of first seeing Ipek that eve- ˙ ning at the dinner the mayor held in my honor, I only wish I could ascribe my addlement to too much raki, that I could say the drink made me lose myself and emboldened me to believe I had a chance, and that there was no other basis for the jealousy I began to feel for my dead friend.

Later, at the Snow Palace Hotel, as I stood at my window watching a far less poetic snowfall—a wet snow that melted on contact with the city’s muddy pavements—than the one Ka had described, I could not stop wondering how, having read my friend’s notebooks so closely for so long, I had failed to grasp the extent of Ipek’s beauty. Without quite knowing ˙ why, I took out a notebook—just like Ka, you might say, and, indeed, this was an expression I found myself using more and more—and I wrote down those thoughts that could be called the germ of the book you are reading. I remember trying to describe Ka’s story, and his love for Ipek, ˙ as he might have described it himself. In a smoky corner of my mind I was reminded of a truth drawn from bitter experience: Immersing oneself in the problems of a book is a good way to keep from thinking of love.

Contrary to popular opinion, a man can shut love out if he wants to.

But to do so, he must free himself not only from the woman who has bewitched him but also from the third person in the story, the ghost who has put temptation in his way. I, however, already had an appointment with Ipek the following afternoon at the New Life Pastry Shop, and the ˙ express purpose was to discuss Ka.

Or perhaps it was my desire to talk about Ka that allowed me to open up to her. We were the only customers in the shop; on that same blackand-white television in the corner, two lovers were to be seen embracing near the Bosphorus Bridge. Ipek confessed at the outset that she could ˙ talk about Ka only with the greatest difficulty. She could describe her pain and disillusionment only to someone who would listen patiently, so it was a comfort to her to know I was a close friend who cared enough about Ka’s poetry to have come all the way to Kars. And if she could convince me that she had not treated him unfairly, she could find release at least for a time from her sorrow. But she also warned that it would cause her great pain if I failed to accept or understand her story. She wore the same long brown skirt in which she’d served Ka breakfast on the “morning of the revolution,” and there, around her waist, was the same wide outdated belt (both virtually recognizable to one who’d read Ka’s notes).

There were flashes of anger in her eyes, but her expression was sorrowful; it reminded me of Melinda.

She talked for a long time; I hung on her every word.

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