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You slid into this world in the early hours of the morning, your skin like curdled milk. raw milkThey placed you on my chest and you burrowed, sure of your place. A part of me leaked out, and they mopped it up with strips of cloth soaking with my blood. You were so floppy, a baby made of dough, your dark eyes peering into me, into the fear and darkness gathering inside.

You knew me.
I didn’t know you.

You searched, found my breast, sucked. You were clumsy and desperate. I was desperate for you to stop. Every time you sucked, my stomach contracted, as if being cleaved by knives. It’s normal, they said, your womb is inching back to place. I squeezed my eyes shut until you stopped and became a lump on my chest again. We lay there, long after the room cooled down and the obstetrician left with his shiny tools that stitched me back together, but not whole.

We got you home, twenty-five grams heavier, with their warnings ringing like sirens. We were to raise you in three-hour blocks, to fatten your lanky body with formula and colostrum that we scraped off my nipple with spoons. Feed. Pump my breasts. Put you to sleep. Feed. Pump my breasts. Put you to sleep. You wouldn’t latch on the right way when my milk came in, and my nipples cracked, my ducts got blocked. Cabbage leaves cupped my inflamed breasts. My body was raw tissue renewing itself without me.

Your daddy held you with a certainty that I should have had. You and I had fed off each other for nine months, after all, the two of us connected. We were skin and bones and awkward angles. Yet when I held you, my hands shook, as if you were going to slip through my fingers. The fear of losing you was a tangible thing. It stalked my days along with the loss of your sibling who flowed out of me at ten weeks gestation.

They will take you away from me.

The thought squeezed my throat one morning when your daddy was downstairs washing dishes, the chink of cutlery rising with the shadows in the room. You were sleeping in the bassinet beside my bed, safe. But what if you weren’t safe with me? I gasped for breath, reached for my notepad, spewed out my thoughts. What if my milk wasn’t enough for you to grow? What if they thought I was crazy? Why would they trust me with a baby when I couldn’t trust my own thoughts? I plunged rebuttals onto the page, pierced the fear with truths.They’re just thoughts. They’re not real. They’re just thoughts. I had overthrown them before, I would again. My fears would not destroy the miracle of you.

But the thoughts were still there at night when I called my psychologist. You are at your most vulnerable, she said. I cradled the phone in one hand, and you in the other. You were sucking again, my nipple up in flames. We knew this might happen, she continued. This is uncharted territory, but you are prepared for it. You are equipped to handle it.

I can handle it.

I held onto that thought, held onto you in the shifting fog. I breathed in your foreign smell. Instead of lullabies, I sang you questions and affirmations. “Zara, are you my baby? I love you, you are my baby,” familiarising my mouth with your name. I breathed you in until your musky scented hair filled my lungs. In two three. Out two three. I inhaled you until my heart rate decreased and your smell seeped into my skin.

When your daddy went back to work,we clung to each other on the couch, our days moving to a familiar rhythm. My fatigued eyes searched yours for an anchor but it was the crease on your forehead, the same frown that punctuated my brow since the day I was born that loosened the fear in my gut. You were a piece of me, foreign yet familiar, the same curiosity and bewilderment etched onto your skin. My singing became assured, my words firm, unyielding. “Zara you are my baby, I love you, you are my baby.” I sang until the fog scattered and I came up for air. I gathered you in my arms, held you to the new part of me, the one that slid into the world beside you the day you were born.

 

First published in The Big Issue’s 586 edition.

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You burrowed inside my body
And made a home for
five weeks six days.
My heart beat for two
but couldn’t revive you.
They called you a “foreign body,”
I called you my baby.
My body became a fortress
to keep you in.
You wrapped your arms
around my heart and
we stayed like that until week ten
when you flowed out of me
and anger filled your place.
I didn’t know that you could go
that so many other
mothers’ hearts
were breaking too.
It’s been two years
but the anger still
bleeds into the present.
I dilute it with
the courage
that you left me
to try again
and again
for that second heart
beat
that now belongs to your
sister.

As I write this, you are kicking and shimmying inside me, stretching me out of my skin, preparing me for your birth and mine.

Your moves are jerky and random like your father’s dancing. You may or may not inherit his cinnamon skin or my crazy hair but I know that we will inherit much more from you.

I promise to try and not look for pieces of us in you. You are your own person. While you’re a part of our flesh, you are not us.

You are human, and have within you the wisdom and knowledge of the universe and I will help you uncover who you are while you teach me what you know.

I promise to help you unfurl your wings but won’t push you to fly.

I will show you that happiness can be found in doing what you love but will be your cheer squad if you go searching for it elsewhere.

I will lead by example and show you how creativity and passion can set fire to the soul and light the way to a fulfilling life.

I will teach you that kindness is a form of prayer and it starts with the gift of your smile.

I promise to keep these promises. But if I slip up or lose my way, if I smother you with unconditional love or add some conditions, please be patient with me. Mum’s learning too.

In my maternal grandmother’s village in Adana, Turkey, the term ‘girl’ was kneaded and compressed like dough. Its weight made my great grandmother tighten her grip on my grandmother’s world, her fear wedging between them. It was the fifties and neighbours weaved in and out of each other’s yards and lives, their mud-cement homes conjoined like a family. “Ayıp!” neighbours would say if a girl ventured too far from home. “A young girl has no business on the streets!” Ayıp was shame, and fear of the word hardened my great grandmother, a woman who walked home from the cotton field when her contractions started, to give birth alone on her lounge room floor.

grandmas-sewing-machine

My nene’s sewing machine.

My great grandmother’s fears knotted my grandmother’s tongue, made her curl inward. She left school after completing grade three to the dismay of her illiterate mother who wanted her to study. “Why study, Sevim? Go learn to sew, it’s better for a girl!” neighbours said. A girl’s hands were for stitching, not reading and their collective voice was enough to steer my quiet grandmother away from the classroom and into a sewing course. By eighteen, my grandmother was a seamstress and a wife and she set up a small business in her marital home where she made her five daughters sleeveless dresses that defied the modest dress code.

As a girl, Mum dreamed of wearing pretty frilly dresses that the actresses wore in the movies. She grew up in the seventies when Turkey’s Yesilçam “Green Pine” film industry flooded cinemas with hundreds of movies a year. It gathered the masses to the big screen like a seductive lover. The doe-eyed heroines mesmerised with sultry lips, while tall, dark and handsome men protected, fought and conquered. Yesilçam was a patriarch with firm ideas on a woman’s role in society. Women were sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. Men were husbands, breadwinners, brothers and fathers who protected a woman’s honour and virginity. If women were rich, money was an invincible guard. It quashed the poor, broke poverty’s bony fingers, taught the public life lessons while cementing their place in society. Mum watched these movies at a local open-air cinema sipping lemon gazoz with her siblings. They sat on wooden chairs as the stars on the big screen fell in love and lit up Mum’s romantic dreams. She was seduced by the romance; humoured by the goofy comedies and angered by the injustices when star-crossed lovers were separated by strict fathers or evil uncles.

When Mum migrated to Australia, she hired Yesilçam movies from Turkish video shops in Melbourne’s north. Yesilçam was familiarity in a foreign world and thick, black videotapes piled on top of each other in our Footscray lounge room. It was in this room that Yesilçam showed me where I’d come from. My roots were dusty and poor, macho and romantic. The men were strong; they were leaders, they saved and married women and conquered evil. Women were good or bad. The good woman cooked, loved, nurtured, mothered within the sanctity of marriage. The bad woman had sex out of wedlock and tarnished her name and honour. The movies lectured like a wise aunty. ‘Hee! See the girl who ran away with that boy? Tsk! She brings her family great shame! No one will want to marry her when they get caught!’ These warnings registered early on and I learned that ayıp was a word reserved for girls, a word that lowered a father’s head and laid the blame on the mother. Fear of the word shadowed me as a teenager in the nineties where gossip could spread like wildfire in our predominantly Turkish neighbourhood.

“Don’t worry about what people say or think,” Mum said often. “Shame is on those who talk! Good or bad is not about what you wear, who you talk to. It’s what you say and how you act.” Mum, a primary school graduate, was educated by novelists and their stories taught her about humanity and new ways of seeing. Her strong voice buffered me and my sisters from the judgements of the outside world. “Trust yourself,” she told me, “like I trust you.”

With Mum’s conviction, shame lost its potency. Shame became a reaction to my team’s loss at the football. Shame was a theme in Yesilçam movies that no longer mirrored a changing culture and society. Honour and virtue were not scripted values, they were mine to define.

 

First published in The Big Issue #517 edition.

 

 

 

 

I am writing a novel that is rewriting me.

 

Death is the only true magician.

 

Dreams need to be ripped open, their layers discarded like gift-wrap in order to come true.

 

Happiness is not created. It is uncovered.

 

Words should be harvested like crops.

 

Being mindful makes my mind full.

 

Breath is a gift that stokes the fire of life.

 

I am human. I know nothing.

 

 

I once had a black suitcase with a broken handle that I fixed by attaching a blue and white cotton scarf to the strap. I lugged it around Europe and it twisted and turned as I pulled, buckling under its weight. Still, it made the six-week journey. We all have weathered suitcases packed with dreams, hopes, achievements, disappointments, losses, successes. Even if our suitcases break or get too heavy, they will take us where we want to go as long as we don’t let go of that handle. 2015 was about belief and perseverance. Here’s to 2016! Make it amazing!

 

 

In 2014

I worked hard for my sanity.

I rescued words from deep ends.

I travelled, got unravelled, travelled again.

Chased my roots, roots chased me.

My plans made their own plans.

Universe conspired with life on lessons.

Loved life. Death loved life too.

Love thrived, tears nourished, hope breathed.

Happiness wrestled past for the present.

Writer, thirty four, came of age.

 

2015, be good to us all.

Here’s to love, laughter, kindness, compassion.

xxx

We called the cake The Mistake.

It rose like a golden belly and jiggled every time I opened the oven door. The inside was the consistency of a milkshake. “It’s not going to set!” I mumbled crouching in front of my mother-in-law’s oven. “I stuffed it.”

Our baking marathon started at 9pm when we attempted to make almond crescent biscuits similar to kurabiye, Turkish shortbreads.

“Beat three egg whites till it’s fluffy,” Jenny said, squinting at the handwriting that curved on a white bit of paper.

I beat the eggs until it foamed with my pride. For once I was following a recipe and not detouring like I usually did in my kitchen.

“Some vanilla essence…” Two capfuls turned the egg whites orange. “Shit, is that too much?”

I laughed. Even the smell was potent. “Who cares, we can adjust it later—”

“Why are you baking anyway?” my husband said.

“Leave it till the weekend, Jen,” said my father-in-law.

They scratched their heads like commentators at a footy match after a dodgy call.

“Why not? It’s a simple recipe, it will take fifteen minutes.”

“Don’t worry about them, Jenny. What’s next?”

She poured three cups of caster sugar into the orange foam turning it into white silk.

“This is going to be delicious!” I said. “Just look at it—”

“Oh shit! It was supposed to be one cup of sugar!” Her mouth dropped open and she doubled over on the bench top among the eggshells and trays. “I was meant to put three cups of almond meal!”

My heart sank.

The commentators shook their heads.

“It’s okay,” I said. “The sweeter the better—”

“Throw it out, Dem. We’ll start again.”

“Tsk, it tastes too good to throw out.” I was seduced by its creamy smooth texture, the sweet smell of vanilla. “I’ll make a cake with it.”

It was 9.30pm and all we had was botched up white batter and a biscuit recipe scribbled on a bit of paper. We launched into phase two of our baking experience: saving our pride. I googled recipes and borrowed ingredients from butter and sponge cakes while Jenny beat a new lot of egg whites for the biscuits.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” my father-in-law said laughing. He retired from his post at the commentary corner and went to bed. My husband followed, crashing on the couch.

“We can only try,” Jenny said. “That’s the whole point of experimenting.”

“True!” I was in my element, making things up, feeling my way through like I did in a story. I added two more eggs to my white batter, three cups of plain flour, more vanilla essence, a few hundred grams of lumpy butter, coconut, lemon juice and rind and beat the crap out of it in an electric mixer. We worked bumping into each other, taste testing the batter, adjusting the flavour.

Once the batter had a creamy consistency, I put it in the oven next to the almond crescent biscuits and kept a vigil in front of the oven door.

Within half an hour, the cake turned into a milkshake. Its insides shook like my nerves. “It’s a bloody cake shake!” I sank closer to the floor. It had to set!

“It will work out,” Jenny said. “If it doesn’t at least we had fun trying.”

The biscuits were out and cooling and still the cake refused to gel.

“You’re the only person that can turn a cake into a milkshake!” my husband said, scoffing down an almond biscuit.

“Ha ha.” My legs cramped and I moved to the lounge. “Oh well, if it’s meant to be it will be.”

Twenty minutes later, the cake bounced when I touched the top. We poked it with a wooden BBQ skewer to make sure there were no liquid pockets. It was clean. We laughed with relief while my husband circled The Mistake, eyes gleaming.

 

My fingers crawl along the keys

Eleven words per minute.

My eyes chase letters

My fingers words

My heart stories

An alchemy

Time cannot measure.

Demet Divaroren's Blog

The hospital room reeked of urine and steamed vegetables. Blue curtains separated the sick. An old woman sat up in bed, her curtain wide open like her eyes. A brown knitted vest hugged her white cotton nightie, a head scarf tied loosely around her plaited hair. She reminded me of my grandma, her features weathered by faraway places. I walked to the opposite bed where my friend Teena was connected to tubes that were flushing fluid out of her lungs. I sat next to her, tried not to stare at the pink liquid dripping into a sealed container, at her hunched shoulders sagging with frustration and fatigue.

“Um…a woman’s staring at you,” Teena whispered, her face sullen. The only thing that sparkled was the Orthodox cross around her neck.

I looked over. A smile creased the old woman’s face. “Maybe she’s lonely,” I said, waving.

“Maybe,” said Teena, lying back.

The old woman…

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