The Mirror That Had Eyes in It

23 Dec

A writer and an artist sat talking at a sidewalk table after introducing themselves to each other.

Guven Oguz, was a tall, very spare poet who had recently moved to Istanbul from his native port of Izmir. He was explaining his transplantation to a small, fat, middle-aged artist named Nihat Deger who had grown up and always lived in the bohemian district of Cihangir.

“It was impossible for me to remain in Izmir any longer,” moaned the young writer. “I had no family left there, once my parents had passed away. No one was willing to publish any verses I wrote. My state became one of unending, permanent depression. I was getting nowhere and hardly could write a single line anymore. What was I to do?

“The reputation of Cihangir drew me here like a magnet. This is the center of all our Turkish creativity today, for my generation of writers. Everybody in my field has had to recognize that truth.”

A broad smile covered the prominent mouth of the painter across from him.

“My story is of a different variety,” he softly declared. “This is my home area. I have watched as the district has grown into a haven for all the arts of our country. My father was a poor, unsuccessful plumber who raised five children here in Cihangir. I would be completely lost anywhere else in the world. My paintings give me little income on which to live, but I am happy to be able to do my creative work in the only environment and atmosphere that I have ever known. One could label me a native bohemian artist. I certainly look and dress like one,” he said with a laugh.

“I already am producing more poetry than it did my last year down in Izmir,” confessed Guven. “A fresh, new happiness has taken hold of my mind and the lines that I now write.”

“That is what my Cihangir does for those who move into her,” sighed Nihat with pride and satisfaction. “You will be surprised by what these streets and what they hold can accomplish within you.”

The pair agreed to meet and talk again the following afternoon of a summer growing increasingly hot.

Nuhat guided his new friend up and down the stair-like alleys between the streets of the artistic sector.

“I would never have imagined there were such a multitude of cats all about Cihangir,” marveled Guven when the pair sat down at a sidewalk café in front of the Firuzaga Mosque.

“They fit into the slow mood of our neighborhoods,” grinned Nuhat. “We have a unique, original sense of the passage of time hereabouts.”

“I am only a newcomer, but I know and feel that I have come home,” confessed the young poet.

“Do you happen to be interested in Turkish antiques, Guven?”

The latter’s dark-skinned face brightened. “How did you guess? Yes, though I have never had enough money to finance any purchases I could have made back in Izmir.”

“I have a close friend who runs a small shop on Susam St. Why don’t we make a visit there? It costs nothing to have a look at what he has.”

They finished their coffee, paid their bills, and departed.

The huge, slow-moving owner appeared to match his crowded shop of low-valued Ottoman bric-a-brac on sale as imitation antiquities.

“My name is Talat Erden,” gruffly said the obese merchant, his face as expressionless as a stone mask.

“My friend here writes poetry,” smiled Nihat. “He comes from Izmir and has an interest in objects from out of out Turkish past.” He glanced around the small store packed with wooden, iron, and gilded objects of all sorts.

“If you have the time, young man, you can look around and explore my collection of a variety of old things. I have few customers and fewer actual sales, providing me plenty of free time to read and meditate.

“Tell me, do your poems ever become mystical or philosophical? That is the kind of literature that I especially like to read. But there is too little of it written today, in our modern world. My complaint is that our people are fast becoming too European, too educated and sophisticated.

“I place my trust in old things and old ideas. Believe me, much of what we think and believe in present time is going to fade and disappear. But what we have inherited from out of our history will still remain.” He gave Guven a fixed, powerful stare.

Nihat then made a proposal. “Why don’t you spend some time in the shop with our friend, Guven? He can show you a lot of objects that you will find inspiring. Some poem from your hand may be the result. I have chores to complete, but I can return and get you in an hour or so.”

The painter took said good-bye, leaving the writer with the antique man.

Talat showed Guven a variegated inventory: swords, daggers, yatagans, khanjars, rugs, kilims, sugams, rings, bowls, glasses, goblets, trays, and linens. A copper coffee set and a backgammon game with mother-of-pearl inlayed decoration were objects of special affection to the merchant.

“I offer many different antique articles,” declared Tarat with pride. “But the relic that is personally closest to my heart is a mirror.”

“A mirror?” said the poet with surprise. “What sort of mirror?”

The fat man grinned like a cat as he led Guven to the back wall of the shop’s storehouse, to a long wall mirror that seemed hidden in shadows there.

“This is a precious mirat from the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid the Second in the nineteenth century. It became the fashion of wealthy Istanbul families to have such silver mirrors as symbols of luxury and opulence. Yet the superstitions concerning mirrors, centuries-old, still seemed to prevail. It was considered unlucky to have the reflecting glass permanently displayed and visible. The back of the frame was outwardly on display and the glass seen only when being used. For this mirror, there is a fine, elaborate silver frame that has baroque patterns to it. It was considered extreme, dangerous vanity for anyone to gaze at themselves for a long time in the glass side.”

Talat suddenly stopped speaking and turning his face to his visitor.

Guven was staring with absent fascination at himself reflected in the glass surface. His gray eyes were distant and pre-occupied with themselves. The eyes of the poet were staring into the reflected image of themselves.

The merchant gave an intentionally audible laugh in order to draw the attention of the tall young man. “One has to take care whenever a person looks too long at themselves in this mirat, my friend. Especially the eyes, that hold powers of enchantment. One could very easily mesmerize oneself, I have heard from old people who claimed to have special knowledge of the arcane mysteries of our ancestors. Caution is necessary, it is said by those who believe such legends and tales from the past.”

Guven seemed to shake his head several times before turning to Talat and speaking in a breathless tone. “I felt as if I was experiencing something new and different. It was as if I no longer were looking into my own eyes, but those of someone else.

“I sensed a sort of special vision, an illumination or revelation of some kind.” He suddenly smiled. “Don’t listen to what I am saying, because it comes out of the mind of a poet and may not be true or real. My life and talents lie in the realm of the imagination, I fear.”

Talat laughed knowingly, staring into the eyes of the writer. “You must come back again and study this amazing mirat so that you find what it may hold for you in terms of what past generations called enlightenment. I will be delighted to have you return whenever you wish to. I have few customers who would interfere or bother you, my dear Guven.”

The two left the mirror and walked back to the front of the shop, where the young man was soon joined by Nihat.

“The merchant is a strange individual,” said Guven to the painter as they sat at a café and sipped sweet coffee. “He possesses a lot of knowledge about the wares that he deals in.”

Nihat gave a broad grin. “Yes, it is possible to learn about many things from that man. Amazing statements often issue forth from his mouth. He knows what he is talking about at al times.”

“I have read about self-hypnosis as a general, abstract concept,” admitted the poet. “But I believe that this man has the means of bringing it about in practical terms. I wonder what effects it might have on a person’s artistic creativity. Could it provide sparks of inspiration for someone like me?”

“One must not take unwarranted risks in such matters, Guven,” quietly warned his companion.

Why does anyone spend hours staring into a special mirror? the person doing so asked himself at the beginning. But after several weeks of concentration and contemplation, Guven concluded that his creative energies were exploding with unforeseen inspiration. He had never before produced so many verses packed with freshness and excitement. My mind is now on fire, the writer realized.

Talat was an encouraging influence on him, regaling his frequent visitor with information about the importance of mirrors in Turkish history and culture.

“There were said to be mirrors that could distinguish between a man and a jinn, so that a demon or witch could be uncovered and identified,” said the trader with a shrewd smile. “That would have been a useful tool for a businessman to have available.”

“People have used their magic mirrors to peer into what will be in future times, I understand,” recalled Guven. “I use yours in order to find ideas and words that I then record in verses. It is miraculous. The eyes that appear to me when I gaze into the mirror are not necessarily mine. They cab have a different color from mine. It is as if others minds are speaking to me.”

“I pray that the glass always leads you in the right path,” murmured Talat almost to himself.

Nihat was astounded at the number of poems and lines of verse that the newcomer to Istanbul was able to compose on his word-processor.

“That quality of your work is excellent, and must submit it to publishers, not one by one, but as an entire volume. I am confident that one of them will accept it.”

Guven decided to follow this advice from the painter. It was the third submission that resulted in successful publication in book form for the writer.

In delirious ecstasy, he rushed to the antique shop to inform Talat of his victory. “I also ran here in order to give my thanks to your magic mirror. This would never have happened without what comes into me from what I see in the reflective glass. My mind cannot understand it, but I know that I would be lost without your mirror.” All of a sudden, a thought occurred to Guven. “As soon as I can gather enough money, I intend to buy the mirror from you, my friend. I shall always keep it close to me wherever I go or live.”

“It is an expensive item,” joked the merchant. “You shall have to sell a lot of your books in order to purchase such a valuable antique.”

Both of them smiled and laughed together.

The newly-published poet did not reduce the amount of time he spent in front of the wall mirror each day. He continued the hunt he had begun for new themes and images. Elevation to ever-higher levels of inspired expression remained his constant goal. A deeper, all-embracing fervor captured his emotional existence, both consciously and subconsciously.

One torrid summer afternoon, Guven pursued his luck by long, intense concentration on the eyes available to him on the mirror’s outer surface.

Dark and bright eyes, sharp and diffuse ones. Some glowed with flaming fire, others seemed distant or absent.

What was Guven about to experience when the irreversible event happened?

Did he receive some hint of an infinite quantity of unknown form?

Talat came upon the poet’s collapsed body after not seeing or hearing him a considerable length of time.

Nihat came to see the antique dealer as soon as he learned from a neighbor about the burst heart of Guven.

“How did this occur?” he asked anxiously. “He was young and strong. Everything about him was vigorous. What brought sudden death to one who had such a promising future?”

“Guven had entered a zone of unforeseeable dangers,” ruminated Talat. “He had no way of seeing what might be ahead, what was moving in his direction.” He paused a few seconds. “His eyes were unable to cope with the eyes he came upon from inside the strange mirror he became involved with.”

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