What She Saved, Hye Holiday Gathering (2 poems)
What She Saved
first published in Elaine's 2019 chapbook "Look Behind You"
after Heritage, by Joelle Taylor
It is said when they opened her
first they found a snowstorm
from December 14, 1948,
when she married John in the Sacred
Heart Church. There was the feather
from her hat, a high-heeled pump,
an old corsage and menu
from the New York honeymoon.
Further down there were bits of flannel,
lace, a small sewing machine that
whirred, making new clothes
from someone's bigger ones,
stitching nightgowns cut from worn
sheets, tiny shirts from bigger ones.
There were worn walking shoes,
a small baby carriage that held
two of us when the walk was too long.
There were squares of fudge that sold
for 2 cents at the Jewish bakery we passed,
tattered recipes, oatmeal, walnuts,
fresh squeezed oranges, and flour set
on a kitchen table, and our old stove heating up.
There was a radio on, Count Basie playing
or Tony Bennett crooning from the top of the refrigerator.
Last, there were lilacs that grew at the front door, Persian
roses from the front garden that her husband grew for her.
Hye Holiday Gathering
Gram prepared paklava and bourma
without a written recipe. Like a newly
hatched bird I'd wait for bits of sweetness
to fall, walnuts covered with cinnamon,
honey mixed with lemon. I stood on a stool
to watch. Before me, Hrpesima, Anoush, and Mariam had
mixed the dough and rolled it by hand, but when I was six
we bought paper thin phyllo from Sevan's Market in Watertown.
Gram melted butter in the cast iron skillet.
Don't let the butter sizzle–too hot!
She mixed sugar and cinnamon in a bowl for me to add
then got out the heavy rolling pin and I crushed
walnuts beneath its weight. Gram said be sure
the nuts are ground fine! Grind them again—
still too big. I pushed the rolling pin hard against
walnuts, then we mixed in sugar and cinnamon .
We took one layer of phyllo at a time,
brushed with melted butter, sprinkled in nuts,
then rolled as quickly as we could.
Finally, using the sharpest blade,
we sliced the fragile rolls and
placed them on the cookie sheet.
Hers were straight and long,
mine crinkled, like thin fabric.
I have the recipe still, yellowed with age,
thin and tattered, like phyllo dough,
filled with handed down memories from those
who sat at this table before me —Shushan, Bedros,
Kevont, Katchador, Sitanoush cooking and eating
to honor Kharpet, our homeland no longer on the map.
I'm the old one now. When I cook,
grandmother's voice follows me, step by step.
Elaine (she/her) is a writer and educator. She’s worked as an English as a Second Language teacher with immigrant populations, and she’s the first generation in the U.S. herself. Her first chapbook, The Heart is a Nursery For Hope, won first honors from Flutter Press Her second chapbook, Look Behind You, was published in 2019.