Sunrise 1999

By Selin Toledo


When was your first time witnessing the sunrise?

Do you remember?


On a tiny island I call home, forgotten on the world map

In the east of Marmara, on August 17th

at two past three

my mother woke us up, impatiently.


I had not heard the word “earthquake” until then.

So how did I know immediately

that we were leaving the house because of this phenomenon, 

that trembles the crust and shakes buildings, empties swimming pools and kills living bodies?


That night, we barely slept.

Everyone gathered on the coast, stood with torches in hand. 

Hugs were our blanket, sky our rooftop, stars our reading lamp. 


It was then, after hours of waiting awake,

that for the first time I saw the sky turning lighter from the mouldy dark, pouring a fancy cocktail on cotton clouds, and in the end, clean white.


I felt excitement,

was I allowed?


The earth mysteriously gave me this gift

on the same day it killed 

thousands by shaking for 45 seconds.

It was three days before my birthday:

“No birthday party this year” mother said

“There are still bodies under the ruins crying for help”.


The earth took seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty lives;

injured twenty three thousand and seven hundred and eighty one;

left disabled five hundred and five;

in: forty five seconds.


And then, few hours later,

it did what it does every single day

turning our part of the world towards our burning star,

giving all of us who till then survived

a foolish and genuine hope



Selin Toledo was born and raised in Istanbul. She received her Bachelor's in Biology at the University of Barcelona, Spain. She published her work on fungal ecology in well-known scientific journals at Cardiff University, UK and later got her Master's from Humboldt State University in California, USA where she published work on paleobotany. She is currently living in Istanbul, where she contributes to magazines in English, Turkish and Italian. She is also an editor in Avlaremoz and a regular contributor to the Judeo-Espanyol (Ladino) pages of Şalom newspaper and El Amaneser.