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Mel Kenne

Mel Kenne

Mel Kenne was born in Refugio, Texas, in 1946. His graduate thesis at Sam Houston State University, where he received his MA degree in 1971, was a collection of poems entitled The Wind Chimes' Song. He has taught English, writing and literature in several colleges and universities in the U.S., including Lamar University, The University of Houston, The University of Texas, and Austin Community College, as well as living and teaching abroad, in Colombia, Japan, Malaysia, and Istanbul, Turkey, where he has resided since 1993. He was on the founding faculty of Koc University (1993-1998), teaching ESL, composition, literature and creative writing courses. From 2000 to the present he has held the position of Lecturer and Resident Poet in the Department of American Culture and Literature at Kadir Has University.

His first book of poems, From the Word, which included drawings by James Surls, was published by Northern Hemisphere Press in 1979. He moved from Houston to Austin in 1979 and in 1984 won The Austin Book Award for his collection of poems entitled South Wind, including drawings by Kenneth Zonker and published by Slough Press. In 1986, while teaching English with a University of Texas program in Shah Alam, Malaysia, he met Paul Christensen, whose Cedarshouse Press in that year published his third book of poems entitled Eating the Fruit. Mel's fourth collection of poems appeared in 2000 as a compact disk poetry / music / drama production from Ne'er Before Records entitled The Book of Ed. The series of poems is a modern take on the myth of Oedipus. Composer Patrick Boland set the poems to music, and they are recited by three trained actors.

As well as writing poetry, Mel has translated Spanish and French poetry into English, and for the last fifteen years he has worked with translation scholar Saliha Paker, rendering Turkish poetry and fiction into English. Their translations of Turkish poetry have appeared in numerous international publications, and their translations of the novels Dear Shameless Death and Swords of Ice, by Latife Tekin, were published in England by Marion Boyars Publications, in 2001 and 2007, respectively.

A fifth, bilingual volume of Mel's poetry, translated by Ìpek Seyalιoğlu , entitled The View from Galata, will be published by Yapi Kredi Yayinlari in the fall of 2009, and a poetry manuscript entitled On the Site of a Future Parking Lot has been accepted by Ikaros Yayinlari in Istanbul to be published in their bilingual poetry series. Most recently he was a participant in the second annual Istanbul International Poetry Festival, held May 12-16, 2009.

Whoever You May Be

I must remember you.
Your voice contains echoes
of caravans laboring onward.
And as I sit among carpets
and kilims, writing, your
travels continue endlessly.

I can almost see your face
glowing amidst those who
accompany you. In my
dreams I pick lice from your
long, black hair and crack
them between my nails.

Wherever you are, I walk
beside you, invisible, guiding
you over a broken track
that we must follow. As you
climb a trail winding through
mountains, I support you.

When you lie down to die,
I act quickly to console you
and keep you moving along.
Only on moonless nights
do you see me, in dreams-
then we sleep together, as one.

A Turkish Dream

Last night I dreamed of Atatürk.
He was a very nice man.
We visited a lot of villages
where he was received
as a kind of avatar.
He was driving the car,
and I sat on the seat beside him.
We had interesting conversations.
Everywhere we stopped,
he squatted with the villagers
around a fire and talked
about his great vision.
Everyone loved him
because he radiated an immanence
that no one could deny.
It was a glow like you might
see sometimes around
a newly erected statue,
but there was nothing at all
statuesque about him.
Actually, he was quite human:
earthly and very refined;
it was only in his eyes
and the soft radiance of his skin
that he appeared divine.
I, personally, was in awe of him.
I thought, "What a guy!"
When I woke up, I wished
I could dream of some
other countries and
their fathers in that way.

One Day in the City

I understood
that I wasn't so much worried
about dying anymore.

I'd already examined
most of the burning questions,
and now-it was another late evening-
again sat watching the yangin*
while doves pecked away
at the grain I'd sprinkled
along the sill.

Above them rose the peaceful
panorama of the first hill,
with all its historic shells,
as if it were the stage set
for some long-planned
but as yet unmade movie.

I watched as a seagull
shat leisurely on the hospital roof
in the foreground, providing a perfectly
natural answer to all that-
or so it seemed then to me.

And I went on drinking
Scotch and smoking cigarettes
while looking out over this strange, illusory city.

Or was it only me?

Maybe, I told myself,
I was already dead, a shade
that had been transported
to a place where watermelon vendors
roved the streets in trucks,
their voices blaring from loudspeakers,
Karpuz! Karpuz!, like a chant,
and other men sang out,
as if in response, Gel ! Gel ! Gel !*,
and the place I thought I was in
was only as real as I imagined
the world dreaming that it
would someday be-
or as I was now pretending to be.

Depressed by these
new questions, I suddenly
looked up to see a ferry boat
plowing along through the waves,
trailing behind it a broad wake
like a long, furry, white tail-
beside it wavetips brushed lightly
by bright bits of flame-
before it disappeared at last
into the window frame
and another part of the sea
I couldn't see
but knew was there,
and would, surely, the next day,
again be.

*Yangin means "fire" in Turkish, but it also refers to
the fiery reflection of the setting sun on windowpanes.
*Gel means "come" in Turkish. It is often heard on
the street as men direct drivers who are trying to park vehicles.

On the Sidewalk

Finding yourself stuck sometimes
behind a guy who's ambling along

ahead of you, you see somehow that
he's not really moving forward, he's

going backward. He's wearing a neat
business suit, dignified, but even so,

he's leaned back into his pain and
doesn't really know where he's going,

his mind has turned around, quit
his vacant face-that's why he seems

to be moving away, in the direction
opposite to where he appears to be

heading. He's running away, not into
you, and not fleeing so much as being

drawn toward some goal that lies
forever behind him, yet remains always

before you-there, just in-between,
where neither of you will ever be again.

Turkish Time and Rain

The clock says 19:53.
I was in the first grade then,
in a school in a small
South Texas farming community
near a muddy estuary
of the Gulf of Mexico,
many miles away
from any congested city.

I had no words then
for who I was or who
I might come to be one day.
But that's way back
in the middle of another century.

Now I'm over half of one
in my own age, sitting alone
in the living room
of a small apartment
in the once-imperial heart
of a country far removed
from that one I called home.

As I write on this page
of another almost full journal,
while listening to rain
pour down-a sound that
reminds me of a pissing cow
from those other days
in that other century-

as a new war is being fought
nearby-as farmers
die fleeing bombs
dropped from planes
passing too high up to be seen
with the naked eye-

I can almost hear a voice
from somewhere outside
the open window say
through a grey sheet of rain,
"Hey, you, guy, listen!
Take a look around.
How do you feel now?
Did you ever really think
there could be a new age?"

The Kilims

The kilims hanging on that wall
have more dignity

than I'll ever own.
Their patterns can never be

seen or known truly
by me or my scribbling friends,

who fail again and again
to express what they show us

so easily each day.
Yet we still try to coax

longed-for meanings
from feminine lines

that have already given us,
in the warp and weft

of their tightly woven designs,
an unalterable vision

of beginnings and ends
and all that lies in-between-

filling our rooms with a presence
that we, lost in labor

at our own invisible looms,
still seek to define.


Upon it the temple roof
will rise

upon it the temple roof
will fall

will collapse one day
upon the stately frieze
depicting two processions
of lordly figures meeting
in obverse symmetry

and all will come down
around the tall, fluted columns
that alone will remain standing-

monuments to Earth's desire
to preserve its own equilateral
against efforts to raise stone
by laborious investment
to the sky,
below which
now lie fragments
of pediment beside
the intricate filigree of leaves
on a half-buried capital
in the Corinthian style

like those remaining today,
each one still
holding up its architraval
segment of façade
in the colonnade
at Broad Street and Wall.

Finding Home

One must leave
one's heart sometimes -

for health reasons
forsake the aortal

trees branching out
above one's head

for another body
in which to settle

for a while - time
spent far away

from the familiar
circle of shade,

in a copse suitable
for the task at hand:

the conceiving of plans
for eventual return

and transplantation
in one's own glade.

Majnun's Song

After so long, I see now
that I'm only as lonely and mad
as every other man
you've chosen to touch.

How lucky I am!

Desert changes suddenly to forest,
to jungle, to swamp, to mountain,
then back again to dry sand and rock.

Like an exiled nomad, I'm left
to wander without any plan
through this endless mirage.

Thank you!

Had you not come to me,
I would've remained a desert
and not become a wanderer in one.

It's this change that I've been given:
my life, my infinite, sad life
stretching out before me like the hazy band
of dust reaching all around the horizon;
this small oasis of my grief.

What more could I ask?
Your love has torn me away from my deathly peace.

How lucky I am!
Thank you! Thank you again!

What I'm Doing

is only this:
speaking my Self

as it is now-
as once was said

the four winds did,
and they were criticized

by no one, but were,
as we'd say today,

"easily accessed."

As I am when
I'm being a windy guy,

and by some remarkable
chance or change

of weather, feel
as I do now:

touched by
an invisible hand,

and thereby, hereby


Where does one go
from the heart
of the world?

All directions
lead outward
and in
to nowhere.

And yet the pump
keeps on pumping
from the artesian
well of worldly desire

a constant trill,
saying again and again
anywhere but here
just go now start

your search
for a new beginning
as if one really were
waiting to be found

out there

A Good Day in Istanbul

I visited Ipek today
at her flat in Acibadem.

We had a good time
eating fruit and talking

about cats and poetry
as we sat on her balcony

in the shade of a mulberry tree.

It was a day when I felt
in love with the city again,

when life was only a ferry boat
transporting me toward and away from

my own other side-so I
just rode the waves and let

everything that was

Negative Space

All that's left now
of the lines I crossed out and forgot,
of the pages torn to bits,
wadded up, burned,

of the dust of ashes
lifted off my palm by my breath
and set adrift out the window:

the dead sparks of words
taken up by the wind,
before, hesitating,
as if it had touched something
there still of my mind,
it changed direction suddenly
and dropped them,

like a dark rain
that had been forecast
would come soon
to form this clear pool
in the dry cup of my hand.

Galata View

A seven-story ocean liner passes silently:
a whole little city slipping by over the waves.

It, too, is full of doubts and worries that,
viewed from this distance, appear not to be.

The greater city doesn't anxiously await its arrival.
It remains, as always, preoccupied, aloof

from itself even-lost too deeply within its maze
of blank-eyed towers and self-involved offices

to notice how intensely it grieves its fate,
or how intently it wills itself each day, not to be.

The Tunnel of No Return

They die but they live.
from "The Light the Dead See"

It must, at the end, it seems
we are doomed to believe, have
a light-perhaps the same one
Frank Stanford wrote of in poems

and then at last saw himself,
not long after he'd lain down
on the warm mattress that evening
and placed the gun at his side:

token of cold reality that had
no end and could only remain,
as he himself did, unfinished:
bound by the light of a dream

a dreamer may try to ensnare
forever and not let grow dim
by turning life's darkest eye back
onto himself, then opening

Just to Say

for Kenneth Koch (1925-2002)

Kenneth, I'm sorry
I didn't have the chance

to know you better.
Of course, some reminders

of you are left here,
like anxiety and fresh air.

There's still way too much
of the former, and there's

no longer enough of the latter
anywhere you were.

The Fool's Goal

All I know now
is that I'd still like to write
a great poem,

one that refuses to expound
upon anything,
but only grows,

like a tree's expanding rings,
into something
that can never really

be cut down,
because it knows and says
almost nothing-

is only a voice
that sings beyond itself
of a life

that exists far
from its coarse bark
of already half-forgotten sound

and circling lines
still going
round and round and round...


there are times
when one just wants
to step out of the game
for good,

yet one still doesn't climb
over the protective railing,
doesn't unscrew the window screen,
doesn't remove the cap from the bottle
wherein sits the genie,
the anodyne for one's pain.

one just sticks around,
boring oneself stiff,
continuing to revise
one's hopeless lies-

forever rationalizing
the will to remain...

Living with "The Walls"

They stood nearby-always alive in our memories.
When someone escaped, they let loose the dogs

and their sirens sang. If we happened to look out
a corner window pane of our second-story flat,

we could see the red brick matte of a guard tower
out past the shade of pecan trees, where squirrels

leapt lightly in free-fall from branch to branch,
gathering nuts to stash away for the coming winter.

We were kept busy, too, making our own preparations
(even though we may not have known then why

or for what), signing up for fall classes, staying up
late reading and studying, drinking, smoking pot,

hardly ever thinking of those other ivy-grown walls,
even when, strolling across the quad, we sometimes

saw trusties with Texas Department of Corrections
stenciled in black on the shirts of their white suits,

watering the state's lawns or tending its flower beds:
ghosts who never turned or looked up to watch us

moving away, into lives where no walls stood silently,
in deep thought, scheming the next night's break.

I've Thought

I've lived life, I've thought,
trying to reach and be in touch with
an essential thing-
something that might appear to me one day
in a sunlit clearing, suddenly revealed
lying on the top of a pocked column base-
a calcified wing,

perhaps: a thing
that can only be come upon and,
once found, might be seen as a foundation,
even with its tiny bones broken,
partly disintegrated, scattered like dry twigs-
the whole scene deserted, overgrown by weeds-
as if it alone had been left there
to mark a space where anything
so given can be savored for a moment only,
like a drink from an icy spring.

I'd like to go out that way,
after stopping briefly in a sunny spot to rest,
and seeing that mystery, the essential thing,
appear before me in late afternoon light,
set in relief by the oblique glare:
a facsimile of delicate lacework etched
in a dried-out wing, or the faintly
traced outline of a long-lost key
laid suddenly bare.