Poetry from Stephanie Johnson

Istanbul Expat Women

Hold a match up to a thread from your carpet, does it smell like burnt hair?

The days when I lived in Turkey seem tinged with sepia now

We remember the same stories with different friends in the leading roles.

Expats being bad in the heat of summer.

Daytime “ladies’ lunches” behind closed curtains

bottles of Georgian wine, hidden in cloth shopping bags

Neatly wrapped to hide the clinking

To protect us from the dedekodu

Inside the cement walls, behind closed curtains

We drank, laughed, cried, told the same stories

With our own voices

Our magic carpet rides didn’t always end well

But at our ladies’ lunches we gave each other tips

About how to fall off gracefully

And how to tell if your carpet was silk or synthetic

Windows closed, aircon on, we hid our voices from the neighbors

Until the stroke of five, when we had to start collecting empty plates,

Water glasses stained with burgundy,

Pack up our imported Tupperware and go back to our husbands,

Head to our shift at the language school,

Mask back in place, magic carpet fired up,

Always silk or wool, never polyester.

Have to keep up appearances.

Here, take a piece of gum before you go, you don’t want to stink

Of alcohol on the bus or in the taksi.

Now, years later, I can only look back at the photos

And wonder how you all are…

Stephanie Johnson’s poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Witty Partition, Sink Hollow, Forum Literary Magazine, and others. She is an Associate Editor at Novel Slices, a new literary magazine based solely on novel excerpts, and has spent most of her adult life overseas teaching English literature, ESL and Spanish. Her writing usually focuses on the slightly uncomfortable space of the expatriation/ repatriation experience. She is currently based in San Francisco. Find her on Instagram at @stephaniejohnsonpoetry and Twitter at @stephan64833622 

3 thoughts on “Poetry from Stephanie Johnson

  1. Pingback: Synchronized Chaos April 2021: Escape Room | SYNCHRONIZED CHAOS

  2. Stephanie Johnson brings us an expat women’s coterie in Istanbul. The opening line catches fire with its “burnt hair” and goes on with the warmth of women together “behind curtains”, drinking at luncheons, letting go for a short time the armor of appearances and the necessity of responsibilities.

  3. When visiting countries influenced by Sharia, I always wondered what women did behind closed doors. They seemed so somber, almost depressed outside, buried in burkas or heads and faces covered, avoiding the look of strangers. I’m glad they can find a place to live and be themselves.

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