Posted by: John Looker | 29 March, 2011

The sound of women’s voices …

Here is my  final  Istanbul story (prose or poem?) to come between two poems in the Istanbul series (between “In The Basilica” and – not yet posted – “Topkapi Then and Now”):

The sound of women’s voices …

… fills the apartment. There are four generations present, and as many conversations too, bringing the city into the room: a birth, a death, disagreements at work, a change of teacher at school.

A child totters from carpet to carpet exploring the promise of the room (with its delicate cups of Turkish coffee and all those buttons to press that summon electronic djinn) batting aside restraining hands that intervene from above.

At the centre of things an elderly lady sits, behind a screen of deafness.  She smiles, watching the child roll on a rug where she herself, long ago, had played and rolled and dreamed … beneath a similar canopy of voices.

© John Stevens 2011


  1. So vivid, John – beautifully done. It reminds me of being in Wales with my wife’s relatives, who are as numerous and garrulous as the family you’ve described. And I can just picture the child ‘exploring the promise of the room’ – that would have been me…


  2. I love being with my family. Great post thanks

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  3. Beautifully constructed, John. Took me back and away to a room in Hove, and though you pick out individuals, I see a crowded room. As Dad used to say, nostalgia is not what it used to be …


  4. Oh, Wonderful.

    Three sentences yet you tell us enough to allow us to wander off, explore our own memories, make up our own stories.


  5. Thanks a lot everyone. It’s a pretty slight piece, but I’m very glad you find it interesting enough.


  6. It’s a perfect circle, even aided by the child’s roll. I have four generations alive at the moment and it is a special, significant moment when we come together in one room. I feel a bit sad this is the final one. It’s been a series that has been a joy to read!


  7. Oh lovely, very evocative. I particularly liked the way you entered the child’s perspective so wholly. I’m a big fan of the space between poetry and prose (prosetry?)…it seems as if it should be a genre.


  8. Thank you Kiersty, and thank you Hannah! I’m surprised and delighted that this piece seems to have found favour.


  9. You know, John, it is slight, but perhaps gains in stature for that. I wrote a whole long piece a while back on (or at least it started with) the ‘great poem’—and I’ll stick by it—but cymbals crashing metaphysics can get if you’re not careful, um, pretentious…so congratulations. Its visual and it probes softly into a simple domestic scene. The lack of identification is intriguing. It does keep with the outsider/ tourist perspective, but the scene is not a tourist-y one. The old lady—I mean ‘elderly’—screened and canopied—listening to voices she can’t hear…why, one would almost suspect she’s something of a stand-in for the poet. Who are these people? Why are we there? How did we get there? Restraint, restraint, restraint. She’ll smile and give us a twinkle in her eye, won’t she?


    • I’m very glad you think it works – thank you.
      “Restraint, restraint, restraint” – I take that as a prompt, since I can easily let my foot slip off the brake pedal on to the accelerator.


  10. You bring the scene alive so well, I can almost smell it! 🙂


    • Thank you Ina. That’s the trouble with coffee …


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