The Sun Rose Madder: A Summer in Istanbul by Edwin Rivera


        No longer able to remain in New York City because I couldn’t afford the rents, broke and crazily in love, I arrived in Istanbul in late May with my Turkish girlfriend. I’d never been to Turkey before, and I didn’t know what to expect, though I had done my due diligence as far as the republic’s history was concerned. I read all about the Ottoman Empire and T. E. Lawrence and Atatürk—in more than just Wikipedia—and yet, I knew very little about Turkish life in 2013. Naturally, I wasn’t expecting to encounter men in turbans shuffling secret documents in smoke-filled cafes—that’s just stupid (though, as it turned out, there were people puffing cigarettes just about everywhere); but I was certainly fortunate to have a translator and guide in the form of my girlfriend, Merlin, or else I might have fallen into the trap that Edward Said famously labeled as “Orientalism.” Merlin patiently answered all of my questions as we wended our way through various Istanbul neighborhoods: What did that guy say? What does that graffiti spell out? What the hell did I just eat? She also inspired in me a passion for pronunciation that bordered on the obsessive (I would find myself muttering Allahim yarrabim ya! under my breath every time I was dogged by frustration, such as when a Turk stepped in front of me on a check-out line, or tey-zehhhhhhh each time a middle-aged woman’s plodding slowed me down on a busy sidewalk). So, as much as was possible, my vision was unencumbered by cultural preconceptions; and I was able to become Isherwood’s camera, second-hand. The problem lay in my character: I’m such an ornery soul, high-strung and of a somewhat cranky disposition, that even my account of an afternoon spent dashing through the sunny surfs of an equatorial paradise might sound like a detour through T. S. Eliot’s Wasteland.     

        For a long time I’d fooled myself into believing that I was working on a novel when I’d merely been marching words across the screen with a grim sense of duty. I’d brought along a fat copy of Emerson’s essays, the journal of Jules Renard, and Don Quixote, just to name a few books, so I could fire myself up to produce some writing in bulk. Truth was, I was stuck—and had been for a long time—and whatever talent I thought I possessed was being shot to rags by my unswerving hesitation and all-annihilating insecurity. I was hoping that a change of scenery would inject a new sense of immediacy into my life, a gnawing urgency to get the work done, ignoring Horace’s plain-spun wisdom, “[T]hey change their sky, not their soul, who rush across the sea.” Little did I know that Istanbul would erupt just a few short days after we landed in Atatürk Airport, and that my hunger for novel-writing would be replaced by a passion to play witness to the Turkish scene. 

       This is what happened: in late May, Istanbulites of all stripes emerged from their homes in droves and converged upon Taksim Square to express their frustration with the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), and in particular to halt the razing of Gezi Park—the final patch of greenery to vie with the prevalent concrete, bricks, and mortar of the commercial strip of Taksim—to make way for a mall designed to resemble an Ottoman-style barrack. The ferocious crackdown by the police immediately put me on the side of the protestors—there were reports of skulls getting bashed, hundreds swept indiscriminately into jails, whether involved in the demonstrations or not. In Anatolia, where nearly three-fourths of the population resided, the powder keg was lit: cities such as Ankara, Izmir, and Hatay saw explosive clashes between demonstrators and police—in early September, a twenty-two year old student by the name of Ahmet Atakan was killed in Antakya when a gas canister fired by the police allegedly struck him in the head. Though forty-seven percent of Anatolia voted for Prime Minister Erdoğan, I made it a point to remember that roughly half of Turkey does not approve of the Prime Minister’s staunch authoritarian demeanor and the tactics of the police as they quelled the demonstrations by water cannon and gas. 

       My sympathy for the demonstrators was further bolstered by the design of the barracks-style mall. It put me in mind of something Melville once wrote: “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Istanbul is rampant with architectural disfigurations. In Beylikdüzü there is a squat, hideous pile of circus brick and stone called Marmara Park Mall that immediately recalls to my mind the financial morass in the New Jersey swamplands once misfortunately named Xanadu (now known as American Dream Meadowlands) —a stillborn retail and entertainment complex that looks like the home base for the Killer Klowns From Outer Space. American Dreams Meadowlands is an operation prized from the merry-go-round minds of the Rockwell Group, an architectural firm lauded for its work in designing fairgrounds in Coney Island, along with the gaudy too-muchness of Bar Americain in New York City and Canyon Ranch in Miami—a scattering of buildings that look like golfing retirees smothered in glen-plaid, the kind whose dental implants can verge on the cannibalistic and who tend to quietly expire into their continental breakfasts. That these designs are all aesthetic eyesores there is no question in my mind, and it is a wonder that Istanbulites haven’t been struck Oedipus-blind by the mere sight of so many buildings in their midst denuded of actual beauty. 

       But why build a mall that is a replica of a complex that had once housed the military pride of a fighting people? This is a question that actually answers itself. Not too long ago, the best-selling book in Turkey was a nationalist narrative, Su Cilgin Turkler (Those Mad Turks) by Turgut Ozakman, which portrays Ottoman Turks as victims of imperialist aggression as they valiantly repelled the invading Greeks during World War I and held onto Anatolia. The most popular show in Turkey right now is Muhtesem Yüziyl, a historical epic about Suleiman the Magnificent, the greatest sultan in the Ottoman Empire. So a general theme emerges: that of a nation craning its neck to past conquests and glories, and seeking to reclaim a supremacy, a golden majesty, that has been lost. It is difficult to distinguish between the nationalism in Turkey and the brand exhibited by the Tea Party in the United States. 

       But this was only a part of the national discord in Turkey: powerful holding companies such as Enka, Sabanci, and Doğuş rapidly disperse their tall-and-brawl methods of construction, throwing up buildings with their eyes to the margin lines and their hands out to rake in exorbitant cash, without a thought given to the swathes of social spaces needed for communities to take root in and thrive. The demonstrators were railing against capitalism at its most bigarexic: hardly a day passed in my three months in Turkey when I didn’t play witness to yet another building under construction blotting out yet another piece of scenic beauty, born out of a roil of smoke like the miracle of transfiguration. And the war against green spaces continues even to this day. A controversial plan to construct a new airport on the European side of Istanbul, between the Black Sea regions of Yeniköy and Akpınar—land predominated by forests that must be forcibly stripped of over 650,000 trees in order to soldier ahead with the project—is currently on the anvil.

       The anger of the demonstrators is understandable, but in Turkey one would do well to step lightly, for this a nation with a history of military coups, and the AKP cultivates conspiracies of usurpation in even the most benign face of dissent. So demonstrations are not tolerated. In the United States, where the libertarian philosophy of Locke and the French Encyclopedists created the foundation of the government, we bristle at any infringement of our First Amendment rights, which includes the freedom of peaceable assembly. To be a true American is to practice dissent—one only has to examine the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau, and Gore Vidal to see that. Turkey, however, severely punishes its detractors. According to Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, it is a crime to publicly insult “Turkishness,” the Republic, or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, as well as the Government of Turkey, the military, the judicial body, and the security organizations of the state. It is also a crime to undermine the republic of Turkey and to insult the memory of Atatürk, the founding father of the republic. Journalists have been put on trial just for merely referring to the Armenian genocide—a dark smear in the history of the republic that the powers-that-be prefer to shunt aside—and a publisher by the name of Ragip Zarakolu had been jailed and fined repeatedly for his pursuits against government censorship, and because of his writings that concern the Kurdish minority issue—an ethnic group with whom Turkey had engaged in a decades-long conflict. 

       All this is to say that national dissent is still very new in Turkey. I would find myself drawn to the tensions on the streets again and again, even though I often didn’t feel as if I could measure up to the task of reporting. “It is all too easy to idealize a social upheaval which takes place in some other country than one’s own,” Edmund Wilson wrote in his 1971 introduction to his masterpiece, To the Finland Station, a dense, demanding, often moving, and ultimately plangent book that examines all the events and personages, from the Age of Enlightenment to the year 1917, that led to the Russian Revolution. This was a warning I took to heart. Wilson, like many intellectuals of his time, excited by the ferment of social revolution and the possibilities of a new system, got some of the details wrong. He could not readily foresee the evils of Stalin, nor the crushing implications of communism, and he over-idealized his conception of Lenin in his book, painting him with the gloss of selfless heroics, although Lenin, as Vladimir Nabokov once pointed out, was “a pail of the milk of kindness with a dead rat at the bottom.” There are moments when the pursuit of truth and justice can blind you to the facts, and bind you to misperceptions, and writers—those professional idealists—for the most part can tumble down this well-worn path. As for myself, I don’t confess to fully comprehend Turkey’s labyrinthine history and its deep-state secrets; but I took great care not to become entangled in conspiracies and to skirt the projections of rumormongers. Instead, I wanted to follow my own instincts, and to trust my own perceptions. I wished to learn by simple immersion. “True education is an experiment in living,” Thoreau said, and that is what I wanted to believe. If I proceeded without judgment, and remained open to experience, then the knowledge I needed would flood right into me. But I was unfamiliar with the pressures and stress of Turkish life—though I learned about all that soon enough. 

                                                                         * * * 

       What was said about Voltaire could be said about Turkey: “a chaos of clear ideas,” seething with contradictions; where it didn’t confound, it astonished. To my mind, Turkey was increasingly becoming a warming pan for harsh ideology. In my brief time there, Turkish media had become saturated with oddball opinions. In late July, a so-called Muslim thinker, Omer Tugrul Inancer, announced on state television that pregnant women should not walk on the streets, for it was disgraceful of them to reveal their bellies. In August, Tamer Kirbaç, the education director in Trabzon, confessed his immense discomfort with the fact that college-aged men and women in co-ed dorms shared the same staircase on the way to their rooms; the very idea that one sex lived just above another, he said—without irony— had given him no shortage of anxiety.

       My sympathy and curiosity heightened with each daily outrage. I’ve melded with the crowds that marched with the energetic boil and fizz of lava as they poured into Taksim Square, and have seen the police platoons that dominated the cityscape all ready for war, in full body armor and riot shields at the ready—men so freighted with muscle, and with faces so tenderly young, that watching them in motion I was reminded of amateur swimmers toddling to the lips of municipal pools, their arms loaded down with waterwings. I saw junkies with the focused radiance of paranoia in their eyes as they ambled through Gezi Park; Roma children who had commandeered the abandoned shell of a bus as onlookers snapped their pictures; young men with haircuts that made them look like student revolutionaries in 1970s Argentina; lively girls with the rainbow apparel of the star-kissed 60s; and demonstrators so industrial-cool in their retro-fitted gas masks that they were like Kubrickian fashionistas. I accidentally found myself in the thick of a small war on a steamy Saturday night in mid-July. The police rumbled out of the darkness in their TOMA (an armored water cannon) and fired canisters of gas into the air in order to scatter the disaffected, who had drawn together to flout governmental oppression—the swirling sting of smoke forcing me to gasp for breath and blacking my vision, making me feel as if lemons dashed in cayenne were being screwed into my eyeballs. 

       I’d seen the stores empty of tourists and the dispirited shopkeepers sweeping the hilly walks; restaurants charging for complimentary baskets of bread and adding gratuities as they tried to make up for their losses. And, fittingly enough, in many places I went I encountered the hypnotic chords of “Get Lucky”: a song imbued with a languorous seventies glamour, the still-chill rhythm that forces the hips to lazy-sway and the head to cock as if to part the sky so the memories could pour—first kiss, first diss, b-girl’s fingertips; that Daft Punk song so ever-present, on the lips of young Istanbulites, in their American-kitsch cafes, flung into the highway out of car speakers, hand-clap and finger-snap, the music of memory, the not so distant past that is certainly not their past and not really mine, Jiffy-pop and Soul Train, Marvin Gaye with his inner city blues, a drenching form of inherited nostalgia that spoke so resonantly to Istanbul all the summer long—its discontent, its upheaval, its angry push against brute force.

* * * 

       Believe me when I say that life in Istanbul was intense enough without rebellion added to the mix. Public transportation could be an overheated nightmare, with standing bodies packed together in iron immobility (I’d been told by more than a few women that unwarranted groping, and grinding against female bodies, was not an unusual occurrence). Too many of the men had an unnerving tendency to direct their hot gazes overlong, undressing women right down to the bone—I’ve caught more than a few staring at Merlin’s ass with such intensity you would have thought they had x-ray vision (luckily for me, none of my angry taunts received any response). Considering that pornography online was restricted, the sites people often visited for sexual relief when human congress was simply not possible, I began to entertain the notion that this was why so many Turks carried expressions synonymous with constipation. It was a wonder I didn’t find myself growing more grim about the mouth, since I was deprived of my occasional online fix. The bumper-car driving of everyday commuters would easily elevate the blood pressure of any otherwise healthy human being (and thank Christ I remained a passenger—I can only imagine the number of excessively creative homicidal thoughts I would have entertained had I been behind the wheel of one of those buzzy Opels), not to mention the traffic jams, though if one were so inclined one could acquire the rudiments of a taster’s menu while crawling on the highway, for men peddling simit and kagit helva, cling-wrapped sandwiches, bagged hazelnuts and almonds, and bottled water to wash it all down can provide you with the nutrition you need to endure the ride. Accidents were the norm, and so were brawls stemming from collisions. Istanbulites were allergic to traffic lights and warning signs; the very few that I’d seen had been promptly ignored, and many roads did not even have the requisite dividing line. Upon approaching a cross-street one had to have faith in the Almighty Allah that the vehicle opposite would display a saint’s patience and not hurtle into you as you were trying to cut across. And pity the poor pedestrians, because in Istanbul the three-hundred-horsepower chromium cunts—Norman Mailer’s inspired nomenclature— ruled. 

       While it was true that Istanbul had many of the symptoms of a pressure-cooker society—this might have explained all the rapidly receding hairlines and unsmiling, saturnine faces (even my own once-healthy mane, I had thought, could have passed for a before-photo in a Rogaine advertisement)—it was also true that this was a country whose beauty could beguile. I’d lived in Turkey for just under three months, and the bulk of my experiences rarely came close to gracing the fly-by clichés I’d so often heard before from vacationers—the splendors of the Bosphorus! the stunning Galata Bridge by night! meze and raki! True, I had seen many a stunning vista, and had devoured meals so uniquely delicious that the first bite could make the eyes bling and sing like pinballs; but what I had also discovered, along with the exotic pleasures, were things that I found disagreeable: a rank nationalism, flagrant notions of manhood and womanhood that favored the supremacy of testosterone and disparaged homosexuality as unnatural, and an encroaching religious conservatism that sought to limit personal freedom and was rapidly becoming a part of the political system. 

       Closer to home, however, I couldn’t help but note that Istanbul, and perhaps Turkey overall, had a powerful procreative urge, encouraged by Prime Minister Erdogan, who had proclaimed that families should produce no less than four children. Apparently, Erdogan’s word was bond, for I had never seen so many children at one time in all my life! They were a veritable horde dropped by a fleet of maniac storks, who swarmed over every inch of landscape as loud as a plague of locusts; children teemed the avenues and seethed across the parched plains and flooded through the apartment complex in Belikdüzü where I lived with my girlfriend, to such an extent that I was surprised the adults hadn’t succumbed to cardiac arrest, what with all those crazed kids screaming and yammering from noon until well past midnight, unyielding fun-machines who were strangers to the pleasures of silence and appeared to enjoy none of their time indoors. 

       But let’s cast those disturbing little hellions aside in order to zero in on another source of bug-eyed anxiety. This year, the month of Ramazan fell on July, and this was a time during which Muslims were supposed to fast (making for nearly 78 million extremely cranky human beings who couldn’t get their nicotine fix—this is a country where people love to smoke); and beginning on the 9th, shortly after two a.m. on that otherwise quiet morning, to my mounting horror and disbelief, a Ramazan drummer made his debut appearance—the red-velvet man designated to awaken people for their pre-dawn meal, which usually consisted of leftovers from their iftar dinners (iftar is the meal eaten after sunset during Ramazan) —banging away at my tympanum with a rock n’ roll enthusiasm while cruising on a sidecar in the more conservative neighborhood adjoining ours, Esenyurt, and blowing up in my brain like a neutron bomb (such was the violence of this verbal assault). 

       There were also the cars that pealed through the night at top speed and hit the brakes with a spine-chilling screech, just so they could imitate the “drift” they’d seen in the new Fast and the Furious at the multiplex; the strange howl that taxis emitted as they lumbered up the hills, which sounded to my ear like spirits escaping from an exorcised soul, and all because the timing belts were loose in their engines; and the one recent early morning, when a man, apparently at loose ends, screamed gibberish at the top of his lungs for nearly two hours until the police vans finally arrived and whisked him away. 

       So it’s no exaggeration when I say that there were moments when I felt besieged. I was working on a piece about Turkey for another magazine and could barely manage a few sneezes of prose. I couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t have the energy to write, so I was a goddamned mess. The truth was, not only had I gotten too close to Turkey and its political problems, but I was absolutely mired in its daily life. My emotions surprised me: I both loved and hated Turkey as if it were my own patria—which meant that I was far closer than I had any right to be. My usual zest began to drain away. I felt sluggish; the words I needed to write just would not flow. My breathing had become labored, my arms would go strangely numb, I broke out into chill sweats at night. I was up at all hours, pacing and bewildered, sometimes muttering. What was happening to me? Was my health deteriorating? The wire of my existence was drawn all too thin; the country had constricted me like a straight jacket. I felt as if I was going loco. Like Cool Hand Luke, I contemplated escape. But where could I go? I didn’t have much money, so my options were severely limited. Einstein once said that great wealth was not necessary for a happy and satisfactory life, and this sounds like all the wisdom in the world when your accounts are positively flush. So no offense to Einstein, but he could stow all that happy bullshit, because there was no way in hell I could simply pull up stakes and puddle-jump my way to paradise. Let’s face facts: it can be hard, some days, to love the rich. But though this be a world of injustice and indignities, luck could sail its banner through your cloudy day. That is exactly what happened to me on my rainiest of hours.

                                                                        * * * 

       Merlin discovered a cheap solution to my problem, so after some Internet research and a flurry of phone calls, she booked a two-day sojourn in the last week of July to Büyükada, “Big Island,” the largest of the nine Princes’ Islands in Istanbul. We took the ferry from Kabataş late on a scorching Monday morning and, after a lulling hour-long trip on the Bosphorus, we anchored on the wharf of Büyükada. I had no idea what to expect. I’d purposely failed to research the history of the Princes’ Islands, lusting after the lost pleasure of surprise in The Age of Google. I’d been told that there were no vehicles allowed on the island, and that horses were the main mode of transport, so not only did I envision men with holstered side arms and dusty streets, as in a timeworn oater, I also took to calling the place “Horseshit Island” long before we set off. 

       I’ve always enjoyed journeying blind, because that meant the things that I’d discovered, however familiar to the rest of the world, had an aura of freshness for me, and still retained the power of mystery. I often think of people on road trips relying on their GPS. There was a time when one had to riffle open physical maps, and use personal ingenuity, to navigate the highways and bi-ways of the world, which meant that getting lost was a given; so there were always interesting and hilarious stories attached to one’s accidents and misadventures. Now we’re more likely to get sleepy A-Z stories, like Gene Hackman in The Birdcage droning on and on about autumn foliage and the purple majesties of the United States, because who gets lost anymore, and who tells great road stories? Jack Kerouac is dead.

       Immediately upon disembarking I was introduced to a sight Joseph Conrad’s eyes might have recorded in his wanderings through exotic ports, with the slash of sails rippling in the breeze, the smoke of tonners idling at the docks, and the gulls creating their raucous lunacy as they dashed about beneath the woolpack sky. This was a tropical atmosphere more in keeping with Cuba than it was Turkey. The sun cooked your nape, the air was exceedingly fresh. The wide expanse of bluey water spelled a peace the human heart yearned toward, and could make even the cruelest of souls less closefisted with kindness. 

       Amid the hurly-burly of activity—natives barking their wares, from cantaloupe ice-cream to stuffed mussels, hawkers making bee lines for the pale tourists in sore need of boat trips to the outlying beaches, and the nearby sound of hooves clopping against stone—I could see the paved road that forked up a grade, where our hotel, and a panoply of cheap Turkish restaurants, lay in wait. Dodging the inevitable bustle of carriages, which passed unceasingly from various directions, accompanied by the funny burbling sound the drivers made with their lips compressed in order to goad the horses onward, we dropped our bags at the Ada Butik Hotel, a weathered two-story wooden building that looked as if it had been fashioned after a 19th century American saloon. The Ada Butik’s rooms were small but spotless, and we had a sweet balcony that overlooked the main street and all the quaint action, where you could sip a strong drink if you had a mind to, as the wine-sun hissed into the sea. 

       The instant I stepped into the room I could feel the weight of everyday life slough off from my bones. Eager to feel the sun splash our skins, and to sink in the salt water of the Sea of Marmara, we hopped the first outgoing boat and passed the bulk of the day in somewhat peaceful splendor on the tiered decking of the beach, where the Turkish pop played more faintly than it would have in a café, surrounded by Turks on holiday and Arabic speaking tourists. We climbed down to take restorative dips in the calming sea and lay in the sun until we were judiciously brown. I’d brought a great novel for company between whiles—Vargas Llosas’ Feast of the Goat, simply the best fiction about the Trujillo era in the Dominican Republic—and with two of my favorite pastimes at my disposal, reading and swimming, I could not have been happier if a publisher had advanced me a hundred thousand dollars. 

       In the evening, we rode one of those ubiquitous carriages, which were not much different than the ones you’d find near Central Park in New York City, curious about the island and its inhabitants, fingers pinched over our noses whenever we heard the distinctive pah-tsssssss sound which always warned us of an incoming horse fart. Many of the residences seen during our roundabout were of baronial splendor, well-lit mansions in the Miami style, or crumbling stucco homes wound in a charming wisteria, each with well-apportioned verandas, flagstone terraces, and a surfeit of greenery everywhere, not at all like unslaked and stony mainland Istanbul; here the witching flowers sprouted from trellises and from between fence posts like singular bursts of virgin snow, and the towering palms bore fronds like the crowns of completion. There were knolls ideal for Manet picnics, and swathes of parkland for romantic walks. People continually passed on foot or on their bicycles and this, combined with nature’s pageantry and the waft of the sea, put me in mind of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where I had spent a month as a fiction fellow at the Norman Mailer Center.  

       Later that night, at an outdoor waterside restaurant, we dined on meze—peeled shrimp drenched in garlic and butter, green olives wrapped in anchovy, an eggplant with cheese dish—and pan-fried fish with so many bones that even the hungry waif cats slinking up to our table weren’t sure what to do with the carcasses once we surreptitiously slung them into the brush below. Of course, after our meal, we’d learned that the bill was padded, as the restaurants on the island are notorious for making secret additions (again, reminding me of Provincetown), but we let them walk away with the difference without too much of a fight— we argued only a little, just so we could head home with some semblance of dignity intact. But why tussle? The food and the atmosphere made you want to sing praises in the cathedral-mosque, and I was feeling better than I had in weeks. That night, for the first time in what felt like years, I slept for nearly seven hours straight. 

       The following day, after a continental breakfast at the hotel which consisted of two kinds of Turkish cheese (unlike in the United States or European nations, the cheeses in Turkey are difficult to identify for foreigners, as they fall under classifications such as “hard” or “salty” as opposed to “Swiss” or “American yellow”), hot dogs, hardboiled eggs that you had to peel yourself, black olives and chopped tomatoes, we hit a so-called “family beach,” which promised to be even quieter than the previous one. The day was spent almost in the same manner, though sprawled on silent sands, as advertised. This time, instead of merely Turks and Arabs, we also began to hear voices from the European continent, including French and German. We were much amused by a pair of Russian tourists who donned muscle briefs for their excursion and spent a great deal of time striking Mr. Body poses before each other’s camera lenses, for what I could only assume were the barracks-brothers back in Mama Russia.

       That evening, after a dinner of spicy lentil soup and lamb chops, we strolled the promenade with our ice cream cones, and finally settled upon a bench with a view of the serenading smash of the Marmara. A young man on the bench opposite sang songs that hailed from the Black Sea with a plaintive passion that evoked moon-maddened nights in the soon-to-come where young lovers gave themselves over to a torching passion, music that to a novice’s ears like mine carried a distinctly Balkan sound, bespeaking the closing of an afternoon, the autumn of a life, the end of a journey wherefrom one had acquired incomparable wisdom and whereinto all of the heart’s love could pour. I felt calm, refreshed, reinvigorated, and profoundly in love. I was ready to return to mainland Istanbul, with all its pressures and stress. Back at the hotel, I lifted the lid of my laptop, reverently, as if I were opening a sarcophagus; expecting a slow roll of dust and clogged bewailing, the thrust of a rag-wrapped arm. Instead there was was the usual mercury light, and I crouched over the inert machine and touched tentative fingers against the keys. The words appeared like skywriting, then vanished when I deleted. I pressed out more words, adding, subtracting--a sentence took hold, clinched by a definitive period; still another; commas and semicolons, the beauty of the emdash; my fingers flew and a paragraph was born. The air around me felt charged, and my brain crackled with that familiar electricity. No more hesitation. From then on I was going to live by Samuel Beckett's famous dictum: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." 

       And so we left the Island. And now, primed to be the ultimate failure (praise Allah!), I can write again.

Contributor Notes

EDWIN RIVERA was born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey. A former member of the United Steelworker’s Union, he has held a variety of jobs, from working the production line in a mayonnaise factory to laboring as a dockman for an oil company. His work has been published in The Global City Review, Monkeybicycle, Construction Magazine, Pank, Folly, The White Whale Review and Acentos Review, among others. He earned an MFA in fiction at the New School. In July 2011, he was a recipient of the Norman Mailer Fiction Fellowship. He currently teaches literature and writing at The School of Visual Arts in New York City and New Jersey City University. He is happily married, looks forward to a reprieve from teaching so he can continue work on his forlorn novel, Sun Street, Moon Street, and is very proud of his Christmas tree (yes, he loves Christmas--boo to all you bah-humbuggers!)