Saturday, September 17, 2016

On Impermeability at the Turkish Bath: Advice to a New Hammam Attendant

Your breasts are small so you won’t need a bra.
Your tits won’t swing into a customer
while you scrub her arms. Wear this underwear,
not cotton, or you’ll fight the yeast year round.

At nine, through the mist the coven of gossips appear.
They only want to gab so don’t squander
too much soap on them, or labor for that matter.
Bahar’s children left the house last year
and her husband doesn’t even see her.
If she sits up from the marble to share,
lean in close and listen, rest your arms.
Lonely wives leave the best tips, be assured.

The nitpickers trickle in all day. They’ll prefer my work
while watching you, a young hawk fluttering,
until one day they see you soar and you’ll wish
they hadn’t. Their tips are generous
in how much pressure and soap to use,
but a couple lira is all they leave behind.
Can’t please them, so don’t pay them any mind.

Your skin will resemble raisins the first day,
but by the third, fourth, you’ll wonder
how something so soft could be so hard
as if it’d suddenly turned to ebony.
You’ll become impermeable.

Some women will make it their affair
to find you a husband. How old are you?
Oh, you’re young! Duygu will start straightaway.
She’ll tell you about her nephew, my son’s friend,
so-and-so. The concern seems maternal,
but don’t be fooled. She’s here for the bath.
Don’t leave an ounce of dead skin on that core.
If you haven’t done a good job, she’s a bear.
Matchmakers are a kind of particular,
even though they want you to be less so.
You’ll enjoy scrubbing her with force.

Then you’ll see women come in here and you wonder
how they dress themselves in the morning,
let alone how they get out their front door.
They’re not here for leisure or chitter-chatter.
They can’t wash themselves and you’re
not going to look them in the eye or
size them up. But don’t barrel through
for you’re the only one to touch them all over.

Melis will appear every Saturday to scour
the bath for hips to bear her grandchildren,
a daughter, a bride for her son. He’s forty
and she wants that stigma away from her hearth.
It’s an old tradition, her search. But girls
have stopped coming all together.
How old are you? Oh, you’re young!
Do your friends visit the hammam? Of course not!
You flirt with boys over every huka flavor
in smoky cafes while in the mist, Melis is here
looking for new meat and men prefer
each other to a woman’s company.
Mehmet prefers it too much, I figure.

Now don’t forget to bathe yourself!
You’re not pure just because soapy water
runs down your body all day. The girls
usually start ten to close and the customers
take our hint. We can’t be late. We open to men
half past five. Be sure you’re clean and dressed
well before the male shift arrives,

unless you’re one of Naz’s breed-
who’s never entirely covered when Orhun arrives,
a different piece missing each time,
as she feigns fluster and he pieces together
every part of her into one complete corpus
in his mind’s eye. But Naz is 22 and unmarried.
Duygu stopped seeking a match for her,
and Naz knows it. How old are you?
Oh, you’re young! Duygu will love you!

First published in POETS UNiTE! The LiTFUSE @10 Anthology. Edited by Michael Schein, Carol Trenga and Emily Gwen. Yakima, WA: Cave Moon Press. Sept. 2016. Print.