My apartment back home is nestled between the narrow streets of Kadıköy, a neighborhood bursting with vibrant colors, the mixed scents of honeysuckle and terebinth trees and conversations escalating with a buzz as the street vendors periodically interrupt with their thunderlike voices: in short, a sensory feast. Kadıköy, for me, is a place alive with its contrasts; alive with its cozy parks and vibrant hills meeting the sea; new-wave-artsy with its music after 8 p.m.; full of history as you splash water on your face from a 300-year-old fountain. When I close my eyes and think of home, it’s the sounds of Kadıköy’s bustling streets that resonate within me — the vibrant colors, the people and the ceaseless hum of indistinguishable conversations. 

Last weekend, I found myself in Bryant Park, New York City, 8000 kilometers away from my beloved Kadıköy. It was a special occasion — Gaye Su Akyol, another Kadıköy resident, was performing as a part of the Bryant Park picnic concerts, specifically organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. As my friends and I scurried to find dry chairs after a sudden downpour, we eagerly awaited the host, Kaan Sekban, to introduce the Secret Trio, a talented group of musicians skilled in ud, kanun and clarinet.

With the familiar melodies filling the air, I started to pick out more and more phrases in my native language, wrapping me in a cocoon of familiarity. Just before their final performance, the Secret Trio shared that, like all of us in the audience, they were three musicians from three different cultures: Turkish, Armenian and Macedonian, striving to fuse into each other and becoming one through their music.

For those few hours, at the rare occasions where I wasn’t singing the songs at the top of my lungs, I got to talk to people I had known for years and others I had just met, the whole experience reminding me of Cansever’s poem: “Mendilimde Kan Sesleri” or “Blood Sounds in My Handkerchief.”

“If I stand with my head bowed,

It’s not because I feel that way inside,

But not at all,

Oh, my dear Ahmet Abi,

People resemble the places they live,

They resemble its water, its soil,

They resemble the fish swimming in its water,

The flower pushing through its soil,”

The crowd that evening resembled a land suspended between continents. Neither here nor there, they were not wholly at home anywhere they went, congregating in an artificial portal to Kadıköy in the heart of New York City. It was a crowd that had learned to think in two languages, live on two continents, each time yearning for the other — a crowd of souls divided between two homes.

When I ran into a friend from years ago, I asked her where she had come from, expecting an answer like “uptown” or “I took the 6 train,” but I was met with the response, “I flew in a couple of weeks ago from our summer house in Izmir.” As we shared this conversation, Gaye Su stepped onto the stage, radiating incredible energy, and declared, “We brought you Istanbul, at least the music.”

Cansever’s poem kept echoing in my mind:

“Their memories are unemployment,

Their pain is consciousness,

Their tears are the drying knives,

You too can’t smile, you see, smiling

is smiling if the people are smiling,

How much we resemble Turkey, Ahmet Abi.”

The songs slowly fused into the crowd for more and more people to stand up, walk towards the stage to sing and dance. These same people, a few minutes ago, had been sitting and discussing their struggles or how they hadn’t seen each other since the last election. Almost every conversation I overheard had a touch of melancholy to it, like a stroke of blue seeping into their words. The same line echoed in my mind: “How much we resemble Turkey, Ahmet Abi.”

In between songs, Gaye Su was chatting with the crowd, reminding me of everything about being in Kadıköy. Before singing one of her songs, “Nargile,” she mentioned how she had once been interrogated about its lyrics and went on to say she would sing it anyway. As the melodies grew louder, I couldn’t help but think of Cansever’s poem again:

“Don’t ignore it, Ahmet Abi,

Prod hope,

Calm despair,

What I’m saying is

The trains back then resembled something disappearing,”

“I don’t even feel like getting sad about it,

Even if I do,

It’s not continuous,

The sadness comes and goes

like a jazz melody,

So quickly,

So briefly,

And that’s it.”

I realized how music prods hope and calms despair, not only for me but for almost everyone I spoke to that rainy night, on wet grass, making small talk with strangers who felt somewhat similarly about a few things and completely differently about others.

As I took the past-midnight Metro-North back to New Haven, gazing into the pitch-black void while my eyes slowly closed, I couldn’t help but think about the last few lines of Cansever’s poem:

“Ahmet Abi, my darling, why does a handkerchief bleed,

It’s not a tooth, not a nail, why does a handkerchief bleed?

In my handkerchief, there are sounds of bleeding.”

Cansever’s words blended into Akyol’s melodies, a futuristic twist to traditional sounds from Anatolia; once again, the world came alive in my mind with its contradictions.