Posted by: John Looker | 27 February, 2011

Beneath the Roman aqueduct …

A further link piece to sit between two of the Istanbul poems that I’m drafting. This will follow ‘Medusa’s Head’ (at ) and introduce the next poem, ‘In The Basilica’, yet to be posted.

(Slightly revised on 3 March, to reflect discussion in the comments & in emails – thanks everyone.)

Beneath the Roman aqueduct …

… a row of cycle shops have nested in one of the arches. Every kind of bike is there, from the sporty lightweight machine down to the sturdy roadster; bikes fill the floors, hang from walls, spill onto pavements outside.

One proprietor stands at his door. Now slightly bald, he’s done well in life, beginning as a boy doing peripatetic repairs. His shop has expanded. But dreams of escape into automobiles, though not forgotten, seem almost foolish now and are spoken of less at home.

There are many like him. The city is a giant bazaar, both ancient and modern, but dotted with minarets and domes.

© John Stevens 2011


  1. I think I’ve changed my mind. The tourist in Istanbul is worth doing—duh, obviously. But because the experience is kind of prepackaged, and, you know, you’re here today and gone tomorrow…no time for that see the world in a grain of sand stuff…to do it well is going to be hard. So, John, I’m going to be a little critical here. Something to think about, okay?
    Nested? Naw.
    Every kind of bicycle…and not one kind is named, pointed out, particularized…stolen
    That ‘proprietor’…this is good, but maybe needs to be taken further. How do we know these things? Maybe he was always bald?
    Bazaar? In Istanbul this is a cliché, yes?
    dotted? Sprayed, infected, exalted, ruined, fulfilled…
    Okay I’ve done my worst. Feel free to delete and ignore.


    • Thanks Jim. Comments are always welcome, favourable or adverse, and it is a compliment that you have read something closely. I need to brood on these remarks for a bit. A first reaction is that I probably should be more specific about the types of bicycle – “every kind of” is too much of an abstraction.


  2. Your words took me to pondering the places beneath the railway arches in Leeds.

    Despite the best efforts of the proprieters they never carried the same welcoming nature as is implied here.

    The best Teddy Bear shop in the whole of Leeds used to be there. The lady knew the name of every bear in the shop! 🙂 Sadly it is long gone and the whole area has a threatening, dilapidated feel to it.



    • Wonderful anecdote David – great depths of nostalgia and loss there! (Subject for a poem from you, perhaps?)


  3. (following on from the above and not to discard the writing which is poignant in its brevity allowing the reader to take from it what they will) My own perception was that his fondness for the work he did was not depleted by his dreams… he did not seem like a poor man but rather, had reached an acceptance. Therefore maybe a slight (not too oversentimental) concentration on the bikes being in his guardianship would cement his personality in the prose?
    I like the personal aspect in this. Whereas the others have been historical and ‘group’ actions, this hones in like a zoom on the camera. I like it very much.


    • Thanks for thinking about this, Kiersty. I welcome your critique. I’m persuaded that I should elaborate – very slightly – on the bikes, and I’m cooking up 4 or 5 words (on which I’ve consulted Nick Moore since he’s an expert in this as in other things). The next entry in this Istanbul series – a traditional ode – is ready for posting but I’m brooding on it a while.


  4. Those few extra details you’ve added (about the proprietor, as well as the bikes) give this piece new life and depth; I think it’s super. I really admire your openness to suggestions, and your obvious desire to get the work exactly right. You’re a craftsman, John, and that’s something I truly respect. Looking forward to ‘In the Basilica’ with great anticipation!


    • Very many thanks Nick – I’m not sure that I deserve those compliments! But thanks for your expert cyclist’s advice by email as well!


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