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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.

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